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President Obama Says Bomb Possibly Downed Russian Plane; Thousands Stranded Amid Airline Terror Fears; Interview with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry; Hundreds of Troops in Sinai Could be in Danger. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 5, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:17] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Evidence of a bomb, officials say the specific nature of messages among ISIS members now leading U.S. intelligence to the belief that a bomb brought down a Russian plane over Egypt's Sinai Desert, killing 224 people.
America's response. Amid concerns that weak security or an airport insider could have allowed a bomb on board. We'll take a closer look at gaps and security abroad and airports right here in this country. Could new precautions keep Americans safe?
Disputed intelligence. Russia and Egypt say there's no evidence yet to support claims or theories that the plane was brought down by a bomb. I'll speak with Egypt's foreign minister, who says the U.S. and Britain are not sharing their intelligence.
And U.S. troops in Sinai. Did the growing ISIS presence in this vitally important region a threat to U.S. peace keepers? Are hundreds of American troops at risk right now?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: As horrifying new images of smoking wreckage surface, President Obama's now weighing in, saying there is a possibility a bomb brought down the Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. He says the U.S. is taking that very seriously. The British prime minister, David Cameron, says it's, quote, "more likely than not" a bomb is to blame.
That echoes U.S. officials, who say intelligence suggests ISIS or its affiliates planted a device. They say the specific nature of chatter monitored after the crash drew their scrutiny and that other clues point to the possibility that an airport insider helped get a bomb on that plane.
Thousands of foreign tourists, they're stranded right now in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, their flights grounded amid these terror concerns. They are set to resume the flights, we're told, but with new strict security measures in place. And as the first funerals for the 224 victims begin in Russia, Russian
and Egyptian officials are pushing back. They're pushing back hard on the bombing theory. And they're warning against jumping to conclusions.
Egypt says the U.S. and Britain have not shared their intelligence. I'll speak with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry this hour. And with House Homeland Security chairman, Congressman Mike McCaul. Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they have full coverage of the day's top stories. Let's begin with our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, what are you learning?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, officials -- Wolf, officials I've spoken with briefed on the latest intelligence say that a bomb bringing down the Russian airliner remains a possibility that cannot be ignored, based on concerning messages between terrorists not long after the crash.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight U.S. intelligence officials say specific chatter from the ISIS affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula following the crash is leading American officials to suspect a bomb may be responsible for bringing down the plane.
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Obviously, there is a consensus building around the world that there was an explosive. And obviously, if there was, then ISIS would certainly be a prime candidate.
BROWN: Intelligence sources tell CNN terrorists boasted in messages about planting a bomb on the plane. But officials caution the chatter alone is not definitive evidence.
DAVEED GARTENSTEIN, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Listen to chatter isn't foolproof. It can be used in ways to throw off someone who you know is listening in on your communications.
BROWN: ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula has shown bomb making capabilities before, but if the terrorists are responsible for smuggling a bomb aboard this flight, it would mark a significant step in their capabilities to launch further attacks.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: At this point we don't have information to make our own determination about what exactly occurred. But we do have enough information at this point to not rule out the possibility of terrorist involvement.
BROWN: There was no indication so far that passengers or crew aboard the flight had any connection to terror groups. So investigators are looking at a possible inside job. An unsophisticated bomb planted by an employee at Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh Airport.
ANTHONY MAY, FORMER ATF EXPLOSIVES EXPERT: Other than someone physically being on the plane initiating the device, we're really kind of limited to either a timing situation or a barometric pressure switch bringing down an aircraft.
BROWN: Tonight Egypt and Russia are still pushing back, saying it's too soon to know if terrorism was a play.
BROWN: And no final assessment has been made by U.S. officials about the cause. And that likely won't happen until forensic evidence and results from the black boxes are available. So while there is concern about a bombing, no one is jumping to conclusions, Wolf.
[17:05:12] BLITZER: Pamela, thank you.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been working her sources. Barbara, tell us more about the nature of this possible ISIS communications connection the U.S. intelligence community has been scrutinizing.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we are learning is U.S. intelligence, U.K., British intelligence services all scrutinizing every piece of information they have.
One of the keys here that they are looking at is this chatter that was monitored very soon after the plane fell out of the sky. Very soon after this crash.
What they believe is they picked up chatter involving ISIS in Sinai, an ISIS affiliate operating in Sinai communicating in some fashion with another element of the terrorist network. They believe that they were boasting, if you will, with very specific information about the bomb, the airplane and the attack.
They're not exactly saying why -- U.S. government officials that is -- that they're not dismissing that as just simply a boast, as terrorist groups often claim responsibility for attacks. This message, however, was not a public claim of responsibility. The U.S. monitored it in classified U.S. channels. Not something that the U.S. was meant to hear by ISIS in Sinai.
So very much a focus trying to figure out what all of that means. It is one clue. It is one important clue. But as Pamela was just saying, it is not the entire solution to this very disturbing puzzle.
BLITZER: Is there pretty much, though, a consensus what you're hearing in the U.S. intelligence community, Barbara?
STARR: No. I don't think that there is at this point, actually. You talk to people, and I think all of us at CNN are talking to our sources across the government; and you hear this differing view. And you hear the basic caution.
The evidence, the intelligence suggests a bomb, as the British have said, potentially, in their view more likely than not. But every step of the way it's very important, I think, to say we still hear the caution until the U.S. can get its hands on the actual physical evidence, if they ever can. The evidence of the wreckage, it will be very difficult to come to a definitive conclusion.
And there is a lot of concern behind the scenes that the Russians and the Egyptians provide that evidence to the world that everybody shares what they have. That is a big concern, as well, of the Egyptian and Russian governments, it should be said.
BLITZER: Yes. I'm going to ask the Egyptian foreign minister later this hour if they're going to do so. All right. Thanks very much for that, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
Joining us now is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Congressman Mike McCaul of Texas. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: The president says it's certainly possible that there was a bomb on board. Can you share with us what you're hearing?
MCCAUL: Well, I agree with him. I think all the indicators point towards the fact that this is very likely ISIS-related, a bomb on the airplane.
You can't rule out the fact that the tail of the aircraft may have broken off, as it had weaknesses prior to that. But it seems to me that all the indicators lead toward this being an ISIS-related event. This would be the largest terrorist attack on the aviation sector since 9/11.
BLITZER: It's a huge development if, in fact, it was a bomb. When you say ISIS you mean ISIS in Sinai, ISIS in Syria, based in Raqqah, an affiliate of ISIS, a supporter of ISIS, al Qaeda? Is there a specific group that the U.S. is focusing in on right now?
MCCAUL: That's the interesting thing. Usually, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are the bomb makers. And that's the crown jewel, is the aviation sector.
What we're seeing here, there are more -- this is more of an ISIS- related event. It appears to be coming out of Egypt. And of course, they have communications out of Raqqah in Syria. But I will say it is too early to conclude anything. I know the investigators are on the ground. The black box, the forensics, so it is a little too early to conclude.
But my gut, as a former counterterrorism official, my gut's been all along that this is an ISIS-related event with a bomb on the airplane.
BLITZER: So you're taking their boasts, their claims seriously?
MCCAUL: Well, they don't always come out and claim ownership. They did in this case.
And the fact that they declared war on Russia, ISIS did just recently after Russia invaded Syria. And the fact that it was headed towards St. Petersburg, there was virtually no time for the pilot to send a distress signal. And I think the satellite technology showed there was a heat blast on this airplane. All those indicators seem to point towards a bomb.
[17:10:00] BLITZER: All right. So you oversee the Department of Homeland Security. You oversee the TSA. What should they be doing right now based on if, in fact, this was a bomb that was planted on this commercial airliner?
MCCAUL: I talked to Secretary Johnson. He's looking at TSA procedures, particularly overseas. And I think it's important to tell the American people that any flight coming outside the United States, a direct flight into the U.S. would go through a more heightened screening procedure than what's in Egypt.
I think what they are looking at doing is maybe heightening the screening at some of these more hot spots across the world. But you have to have cooperation with the host country to do that.
Now, having said that, you can have the best screening/vetting procedures in the world, but if you have an inside job, inside operator who can smuggle something like this onto an aircraft, you can't stop that.
BLITZER: Because that's the suspicion in this particular case at Sharm el-Sheikh: someone who was an insider smuggled either in the cargo or the catering, something along those lines.
MCCAUL: And that's what we're really worried about, is ISIS connection to the airport. Of course, you have the firing of the guy in charge of the airport at Sharm el-Sheikh. And so...
BLITZER: Tell me about that.
MCCAUL: Well, he was fired because of, I think, what happened. I mean, obviously, if -- if a bomb did get on the airplane, he failed in that test. And so, whether it got through the luggage screening, we don't know. I think it would have been picked up by a magnetometer. But the fact is, if there's an inside job going on that's -- involves corruption, that's a very hard thing to stop.
BLITZER: And there are a lot of specific enemies, not just ISIS or al Qaeda for that matter, but remnants of Muslim Brotherhood in Sinai, as well, opposed to the Egyptian government, would be more than happy to go ahead and embarrass the Egyptian government.
MCCAUL: Yes, exactly. I think that's why the Egyptian government is saying this is not a terrorist event; the Russians don't want it to be. They don't want a homeland security issue themselves. The U.K. is basically calling this an ISIS event. Our officials are waiting until all the evidence comes in. I think that it's appropriate.
But, you know, this is interesting. If ISIS is now sort of evolving now into bomb making and blowing up airplanes, that's a major shift. Al Qaeda was the one that owned that space. If ISIS is doing this, that is a direct threat, I think, not only to Europe and the Middle East but to American flights, as well. BLITZER: The president of the United States has just spoken out about
this. We're going to show our viewers or play for our viewers what he just said.
Stand by. Mike McCaul is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Much more with the chairman right after this.
[17:17:28] BLITZER: We're back with the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Mike McCaul. We'll get back to him in a moment.
But first, as funerals begin for the 224 victims of the Russian airliner crash, Russia is not yet prepared to embrace the idea that it was targeted by ISIS because of its military role in Syria.
CNN's global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is looking into all of this.
Elise, if ISIS did do this, how would it change the equation, potentially, for Russia?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're right. The Kremlin continues to dismiss the British conclusion, backed by U.S. officials, that a bomb brought down the Russian jet. But if the suspicions prove true, President Vladimir Putin's record of dealing with terrorists suggest his response will be tough and is likely to intensify his military intervention in Syria.
LABOTT (voice-over): Vladimir Putin delivering a message of assurance to a grieving and fearful Russian public as evidence mounts that ISIS may have brought down the airliner.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will always be protecting your interests, especially in difficult, critical situations like Libya, Syria or Yemen.
LABOTT: Putin wasn't ready to concede it was a terrorist act, but today the British prime minister left little doubt.
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We cannot be certain that the Russian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb. But it looks increasingly likely that that was the case.
LABOTT: ISIS threatened Russia just last week, vowing revenge after Putin bombed the group's bases and weapons depots in Syria. Soon after the plane was ripped apart at 30,000 feet, ISIS claimed responsibility. In a subsequent video, an ISIS fighter with a message for Putin delivered in Russian.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): One would like to congratulate our brothers from the Sinai Peninsula for having hit this damn plane. LABOTT: If the claims prove true, Putin could use the attack to
justify his growing presence in Syria. With 90 percent of Russian airstrikes currently targeting rebels battling his ally, Bashar al- Assad, the U.S. hopes Putin will now turn his full attention to his stated target, ISIS.
JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We know exactly where Russian military aircraft are operating. And we know exactly what they're hitting. And they are not spending anywhere near the bulk of their time against ISIL.
LABOTT: Putin cemented his popularity at home by crushing separatists in Chechnya, after a series of bloody apartment bombings, exploding airliners, and a siege on a theater and school in Beslan.
If Russia is now directly in the firing line, Putin may once again come under pressure from his people to forcibly respond.
MICHAEL WEISS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Putin has claimed to be sort of one of the foremost counterterrorism mavens and leaders of the world. So for him this would be a blow to this sort of image and prestige in wrapping up Islamist terrorism.
LABOTT: Now, Russia has suggested the U.S. and its allies have a political motive to push the terror attack theory. Demonstrating a high cost of military intervention could dampen Russian support for Assad and prompt Putin to cut a deal for a political settlement.
But if this incident was a terrorist attack, Kremlin's watchers say the Russian people will see the campaign as a way of neutralizing the threat before it reaches the homeland and give support to President Putin, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Elise, thanks very much. Elise Labott reporting.
We're talking with House Homeland Security Committee chairman, Republican Congressman Mike McCaul.
The ITV, the British news network, just reporting that the British government came to this conclusion it was probably ISIS that planted a bomb on this plane based on what they say was signals intelligence collection. Now, we've been talking about chatter, stuff like that, communications. When you hear the word "signals intelligence," what does that say to you?
MCCAUL: That's a -- signals, it's called -- that's a very reliable source. I cannot get into that in this particular matter, but there's a reason why the prime minister, I think, of Britain is coming out so strongly with his theory. And I happen to agree with him on this.
I think the analysis is very interesting. I've always said when Putin set foot in Syria, he will create homeland security issues of his own. He's only 600 miles away from Syria. Now ISIS has declared war on Russia because of their involvement in Syria.
And what will be interesting to see is whether this, if this turns out to be an ISIS-related attack, a bombing on an airplane, whether Mr. Putin will now turn his sights on ISIS, rather than just propping up the Assad regime. All the target packages thus far in Syria have only been designed to help Assad, not to defeat ISIS.
BLITZER: Because it looks like British intelligence is doing their work. The president, in his comments that he just made, he said, we're going to be -- we're going to spend a lot of time just making sure our own investigators and own -- our own intelligence community find out what's going on before we make any definitive pronouncements. But then he said it's certainly possible that there was a bomb onboard.
So it looks like the British may be a little bit ahead of the U.S. in this conclusion.
MCCAUL: I think the British are more forward-leaning in this matter. I think the U.S. officials are being very cautious. They want the forensics team to go in and do their job and the black box recording to be analyzed. That could take a while.
But I think the Brits, because of the proximity and the infiltration of ISIS in the United Kingdom, are being a little more aggressive and proactive in protecting the British people. And I frankly agree with them.
I think Putin does not want this to be a terrorist event. But if it is, again, the only thing we have in common with Russia is the hatred for the jihadist. And I think it will be interesting to see, if this was a terrorist related event, if this will change the course of what Russia's doing in Syria to turn away from just anti-Assad forces to ISIS.
BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
MCCAUL: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Mike McCaul is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Coming up, the rising concern about the possibility of an airport security breach in Egypt. Could it happen at other airports? Even right here in the United States?
We'll also go live to the airport where thousands of tourists are now stranded. And I'll speak live this hour with a top Egyptian official, the foreign minister.
[17:28:27] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Our breaking news, President Obama now commenting on the crash of that Russian airliner in Egypt's Sinai desert, saying it's, quote, "certainly possible that there was a bomb onboard." His specific words, "certainly possible that there was a bomb onboard."
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. So, Jim, what does it mean that the president is now directly weighing in?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president is going much farther than what the White House has said, what the administration has said so far about this Russian airliner.
He said in an interview -- he did a series of radio interviews earlier today but in an interview with the CBS Radio station KIRO in Seattle, with reporter Dave Ross, the president said, as you just mentioned a few moments ago, that it is possible that there was a bomb onboard that plane. Here's more of what the president had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there is a possibility that there was a bomb onboard. And we're taking that very seriously. We know that the procedures we have here in the United States are different than some of the procedures that existed for outbound and inbound flights there. And we're going to spend a lot of time just making sure that our own investigators, our own intelligence community figures out exactly what's going on before we make any definitive pronouncements. But it is certainly possible that there was a bomb onboard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And it sounds like there, Wolf, according to what the president is saying, that the U.S. may be stepping up its role in terms of what its investigators, what the intelligence community might be doing to get to the bottom of what happened to that plane.
[17:30:04] Up until point, White House officials have been saying that U.S. investigators would not really be that involved, that they would be essentially keeping in touch with their counterparts in Egypt and in Russia.
But, Wolf, one other thing we should point out here at the White House press briefing earlier today, the White House press secretary Josh Earnest was very doubtful as to whether or not Russia could really carry out a credible investigation referring to what happened to that Malaysian airliner that was shot down over Ukraine.
Josh Earnest, the press secretary, said, you know, Russia does not have a great track record when it comes to these things. So it sounds like from what the president is saying there, he said, we don't know definitively yet what happened to that plane. He wants to get to the bottom of it. But at this point he's really signaling that the U.S. might take on a greater role in this investigation and really saying there in that interview which I think is really important that there was possible bomb onboard. That is much farther than anybody in this administration has gone at this point, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly has. And specifically publicly at least.
All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that.
Let's get some more now, joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM the former TSA administrator John Pistol. He's now the president of Anderson University. Also joining us our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes, our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, and the former NTSB managing director, our CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz.
John Pistol, take us inside the TSA right now. They got to be learning some lessons, they got to be taking steps. What are they doing?
JOHN PISTOL, FORMER TSA ADMINISTRATOR: Yes. So TSA is working with the entire intelligence, law enforcement community, homeland security community, to assess the information, the evidence, the intelligence that is available from all sources and then trying to make decisions, informed decisions as to what should happen both domestically at the 450 airports here and then at the 275 airports that serve as last points of departure to the U.S.
BLITZER: Because the specific concern isn't necessarily that a passenger brought a bomb onboard but a worker there at the airport who had access to the cargo, the catering, may have put a bomb on that plane.
PISTOL: Right. And that is a concern because if it's an insider, either witting or unwitting, for example if somebody was being paid to simply to smuggle guns or drugs or money, contraband onboard, and they were unwitting that it was a bomb, that makes it even more complicated. So really raises the question what type of vetting were the Egyptian authorities doing at Sharma el Sheikh airport of the airport employees.
BLITZER: How vulnerable are U.S. aircraft right now?
PISTOL: Well, so U.S. aircraft are in a different light because of the security protocols that we have in place here in the U.S. and for any airplane that comes to the U.S. from those 275 airports. Different levels of security, multiple layers of security vice what may be happening there.
BLITZER: Having said that do U.S. airliners at the TSA, other law enforcement authorities, Peter Goelz, do they need right now to rethink their security measures?
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, they certainly need to watch this investigation very carefully. And if it proves out that it was a terrorist attack, they'll do an after-action assessment and they'll adjust where necessary.
BLITZER: They're talking about the chatter, signals, intelligence, iTV, the British television network is saying they picked up some communications, they're eavesdropping on these terrorists and that's what's leading them to this conclusion. Is that kind of evidence good enough usually, Tom Fuentes? TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, I don't think it's good
enough. It could be a lead material, it can be an indicator, but, you know, the people, if they're talking in the chatter of specific information that only insiders would know, that's one thing. The rest of it to me is nothing more than a digital form of gossip of people chatting with each other, going did you hear that, do you think they did this, how did they do that, oh, wow it's exciting. And it's not from informed people involved in the plot.
BLITZER: But the British are going a bit further out there speculating it was a bomb by an ISIS affiliated group or ISIS itself.
Peter Bergen, you spent years studying all these terrorist groups. Does this have the ISIS fingerprints on it?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, we don't know. But I think it's pretty unusual for the British prime minister to come out publicly with such a strong statement if they didn't feel very strongly that this was very likely the case.
The British by the way have gone to Sharma el Sheikh airport and they found the security there to be very lacking. I talked to a British official last night who said that the security was inconsistent, poorly supervised. And that's, you know, one of the key reasons that they suspended flights. Whatever the outcome is with the investigation they don't think Sharma el Sheikh is a safe airport.
BLITZER: TSA can control security at U.S. airports. And they can only have a role in security at international airports whether in Europe or Asia or South America if the host country lets them play a role.
PISTOL: Well, yes and no, Wolf, because if it's at one of the 275 airports that have nonstop passenger service or cargo service to the U.S., the U.S. government through TSA acts as a regulatory agency and can insist on certain security protocols. And Sharma el Sheikh to St. Petersburg obviously that's not covered by the U.S. jurisdiction. So for any airport and any airplane that flies directly to the U.S., cargo or passenger, the U.S. sets the standards for what that security is. And they then can fine them or even ban travel if it's not up to the standards.
[17:35:11] BLITZER: All right. Gentlemen, stand by. We have much more to assess. We're getting more information coming into The Situation Room. We're about to go live to Sharma el Sheikh. The airport there right now thousands and thousands of tourists are stranded. And they want to know will there be new measures allowing them to get out of there because they want to leave. They want to leave as quickly as possible. Stay with us.
[17:40:10] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news just a little while ago. The British government announced plans to resume flights from the Sharma el Sheikh airport in Egypt but with drastic new security measures in place. Thousands and thousands of tourists have been stranded because flights
were canceled after a Russian airliner went down after taking off from Sharma el Sheikh.
CNN's Ian Lee is over at the airport in Sinai for us right now.
Ian, so what extra security measures are they taking?
IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've seen a noticeable increase in security here at the airport. Before you even get into the airport area you go through a checkpoint. They go through your luggage, they have a bomb sniffing dog that goes around the vehicle. Then once you come here and you go into the terminal building behind me, there are other layers of security where they scan your bags, you go through metal detectors.
Most of the time you will get a pat-down as well. And there's extra police officers we're seeing out here in front as well. And this is still very much a working airport. Just because those other airlines stopped their flights, we do have a bunch of other ones just about five hours ago hundreds of people were here. I asked them if they felt safe, if they felt the measures were necessary that were in place. And everyone I talked to said that they didn't have any security concerns.
And we're seeing also now from the UK they must be at least right now happy with the way security is if they're allowing these flights to resume back to the UK, Wolf.
BLITZER: They want to try to get a lot of these tourists out of there I assume as well.
Ian Lee, thanks very much.
A top Egyptian official says the United States and Britain are not sharing any of the specific intelligence giving rise to their suspicion that a bomb may have brought down the Russian jetliner.
Joining us now on the phone is the Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry.
Foreign Minister, thanks very much for joining us. I know you're incredibly busy right now, but can you share with us any new information the Egyptian government has about the downing of this plane or who could have been responsible for bringing this plane down?
SAMEH SHOUKRY, EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Not at all, Wolf. This is an ongoing investigation. It's a multinational investigation with Egypt, Russia, Ireland, France and Germany. The technical assessment of the black boxes and the recorders. So we have no information until that investigation is thoroughly completed.
BLITZER: Have you invited U.S. investigators to participate?
SHOUKRY: No. The investigation is being conducted by the nations that are directly involved in the incident. I'm not so certain that there has been an offer and I don't have any information pertaining to this issue. But as I've said previously we don't rule anything in and we don't rule anything out related to this incident. And we will take and have taken the necessary precautions. In any event I think whenever there's too much security, security can only be beneficial if it raises the level of confidence and assurance with our tourists and the tourist industry. But we are also working under very severe conditions where a lot of tourists in this being affected by this rush to certain judgment.
BLITZER: I know you've had a chance to speak with British officials. I don't know if you've got a chance to speak with U.S. officials, but the president of the United States just a little while ago said it's very possible that there was a bomb placed onboard and other U.S. officials, British officials are pointing their fingers directly at ISIS. Do you reject that conclusion?
SHOUKRY: No, I don't reject any conclusion. But I will only be able to assess that conclusion if information was to be shared. I believe that this information has a direct bearing on both the investigation and on our status as this incident having happened on our territory. And I would have expected that there is information that it would be shared with those need to be concerned.
BLITZER: So, so far the U.S. or the UK neither has shared their specific information leading them to this assessment that it's a possibility that there was a bomb placed onboard?
SHOUKRY: No, we have not received any information from either party. I'm not -- I was speaking to Secretary Kerry yesterday. He made no reference to any information that was provided. We did discuss the issue of what was in the public media attributed to the State Department and he indicated to me that that was not an official position.
[17:45:11] BLITZER: As you know there are about 700 American soldiers in Sinai, part of the multinational peace keeping force. We know that Sinai has become increasingly violent and dangerous in recent years. Do you --
SHOUKRY: No, I would not generalize, Wolf. There's only a very limited area which is 5 percent of the Sinai that has witnessed the military activity of Daesh or ISIS or counter efforts to quell this terrorist organization. So it is not the Sinai, this is 5 percent of the Sinai.
BLITZER: It's only a small percent. So you're saying there's no dangerous to those American troops because as you know in September four American soldiers were injured in a roadside bomb.
SHOUKRY: The NFO is located in very close proximity of 5 percent with the possibility of monitoring the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement have done so with great competence and professionality. And definitely there are dangers and we have provided additional security in cooperation with the command of the multinational forces. And I believe at this stage both parties and both we, the Israelis and the force are satisfied with the current arrangement. BLITZER: The Foreign minister of Egypt, Sameh Shoukry. Mr. Foreign
Minister, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck in your investigation.
SHOUKRY: Thank you.
BLITZER: We'll stay in close touch. Thank you.
SHOUKRY: Thank you.
BLITZER: Our CNN correspondents are continuing to work their sources. Coming up, we'll have the latest from the Pentagon about terrorist so- called chatter that drew the attention of the U.S. intelligence community.
Also, the airline crash puts new focus on the safety of hundreds of U.S. troops as we were just talking about that are based in Sinai right now. Stay with us.
[17:51:32] BLITZER: Our breaking news, President Obama now says it's certainly possible that an ISIS bomb brought down the Russian airliner over Sinai killing 224 people. An ISIS affiliate is on the rise there and that may pose -- may pose a threat to hundreds of American peace keepers who are stationed in Sinai.
CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this story for us.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've got new information tonight on the growing lethal capabilities of the ISIS affiliate in Sinai, and the vulnerability of U.S. troops who have a key base very near where ISIS operates in the northern part of the peninsula.
TODD (voice-over): They brought down an Egyptian helicopter with a shoulder-fired missile. They claimed they hit this Egyptian warship. And right near their stronghold in North Sinai is where these U.S. troops are stationed. In early September, four American soldiers from that base were wounded in an IED attack believed carried out by ISIS' lethal affiliate in Sinai, an attack which prompted the United States to send reinforcements to boost security.
(On camera): When you heard about that attack, what was going through your mind?
COMMAND SGT. MAJOR RICH GREENE (RET.), FORMER TASK FORCE SINAI SOLDIER: It was like I was right back there. I could remember the base where I was, how I lived and all that and there is concern for the people that are there.
TODD (voice-over): In 2011 and 2012 Rich Green was an army sergeant major deployed with Task Force Sinai, a contingent of about 700 American troops on that peninsula. Their mission along with others in a multinational force, to observe and report what Israeli and Egyptian forces are doing and sometimes report militant activities but these American troops are peace keepers. They are lightly armed.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They are outgunned by the terrorists right now and it's a dangerous mission.
TODD: Rich Greene says the Americans' heaviest weapons when he was there, machine guns mounted on tripods.
GREENE: The infantry units that are there have squad weapons but not anything that would take on a large, you know, coordinated attack.
TODD: And that's exactly what they may be up against. The ISIS affiliate which U.S. officials citing intelligence say may have been among ISIS groups which could have planted a bomb on the Russian passenger plane is a terror cell growing in capability. Known as (INAUDIBLE) they pledged alliance to ISIS last year. A U.S. counterterrorism official tells CNN they are one of ISIS' most active and potent affiliates. Adopting the ISIS branding and brutal tactics. Analysts say they killed an American oil worker, beheaded a Croatian man, claimed to have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and assassinated top security officials. American troops are a prize target.
MOHAMED SABRY, AUTHOR, "SINAI": Does the group want to make more propaganda for itself by attacking the NFO, the multinational forces and observers, with almost 700 U.S. soldiers on the ground there? Yes, they would like to do that, of course. This is one of their main goals.
TODD: Will those U.S. troops get more manpower and weapons? The Associated Press reported in August that the Obama administration was considering whether to bolster the American force or possibly withdraw it completely from Sinai. U.S. officials we spoke to will not comment on that but one Defense official told us they are always adapting force protection measures to deal with threats -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, what else are you picking up on this ISIS affiliate's reach over there, their ability to infiltrate rival security forces, acquire weapons?
TODD: It's scary tough, Wolf. Terrorism analysts tell us this ISIS affiliate has got a proven ability to infiltrate and recruit Egyptian military and security forces.
[17:55:08] They almost killed Egypt's interior minister last year, recently they assassinated a top Egyptian prosecutor, they killed a counterterrorism officer, and he was working undercover. U.S. counterterrorism official tells us weapon smuggling is ramped in Sinai and this ISIS group been able to acquire and use a range of weapons, Wolf. They are a direct and immediate threat to American troops on that Peninsula.
BLITZER: Yes. It's a serious, serious matter. All right, Brian, thanks for that report.
Coming up, we're going to have much more on the breaking news, new clues leading U.S. intelligence to the belief that a bomb brought down a Russian plane over Egypt's Sinai desert, killing 224 people.
[18:00:10] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news.