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White House Talks Russian Plane Crash; Message From British Prime Minister; Airport Security Is Primary Flight Concern; U.S. Intel Suggests Airport Insider Helped; ISIS Bomb May Have Downed Jet; A Tale Of Two Carsons; Mystery of the Russian Plane Crash; Interview with Rick Santorum. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired November 5, 2015 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with the mysterious crash of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt, and disputed claims today that a terrorist bomb is to blame. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron couches it by saying a bomb is the most likely cause.
[13:00:03] Let's go to the White House right now. The press secretary, Josh Earnest, giving us the latest information from there.
JOSH EARNEST, U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY (live): However, we can't rule anything out, including the possibility of terrorist involvement.
Obviously, you heard the announcement from the British government about steps they were taking to ensure the safety of the British traveling public. And, currently, the Obama administration is reviewing a number of different steps that we can take to enhance security for commercial flights bound for the United States from certain foreign airports. That's an ongoing process.
When we develop those additional measures, we work closely with industry and our international partners to make sure they are properly and effectively implemented. And I don't have anything new, at this point, to announce. But once a decision on those steps has been made, it will be announced by the Department of Homeland Security.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you say that you can't rule anything out, is that kind of just a statement of, you know, we just don't know yet or does the U.S. have specific intelligence that suggests that it might, if fact, have been an act of terror?
EARNEST: Josh, I can't get into the intelligence, but -- and it is accurate to say that the United States has not made our own determination about the cause of the incident. But based on what we know and based on -- in part at least, on what's been publicly reported, in terms of claims of responsibility, we can't rule anything out, including the possibility of terrorist involvement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now that we all have the TBP (ph) texts to look at and enjoy at our bedside, --
EARNEST: Yes, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- can you give us an update on the time line that the White House envisions for --
BLITZER: All right. So, there you have the latest from the White House. Not ruling anything out, suggesting, yes, it's quite possible this could have been a terrorist bomb that killed all those people, 224 people on board that Russian airliner. We're going to keep monitoring the White House press secretary, see if he sees anything else.
In the meantime, you should know that Russian and Egyptian authorities are disputing the bomb claims. They say there is simply no evidence to prove it, at least not yet. They also say it could take many months before we know what actually brought down the plane, once again, killing all 224 people on board.
Moments ago, the Egyptian president, Abdul Fattah El Sisi, left a meeting with David Cameron in London. The two talked about new cooperation between their countries as they assess security in Sharm El Sheikh.
For now, the U.K. has grounded all flights there, stranding literally thousands and thousands of passengers trying to get back to Britain.
Also, Egypt civil aviation minister tells our Christiane Amanpour that the United States and the United Kingdom have not shared their specific intelligence on the crash with Egyptian authorities.
Let's talk about all these development. Joining us now from London, our Senior International Correspondent Clarissa Ward from Sharm El Sheikh. Egypt is our Ian Lee. He's on the scene there at the airport there.
Clarissa, here is what the British prime minister, David Cameron, said following his meeting with the Egyptian president, El Sisi, when asked specifically whether the U.K. has intelligence that the Russians do not have.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER, BRITAIN: My role is to act in the right way to keep British citizens safe and secure and to put their security first. And I act on the basis of intelligence that I receive. I act on the basis of advice that I get. Of course, I cannot be sure, my experts cannot be sure, that it was a terrorist bomb that brought down that Russian plane. But if the intelligence is and the judgment is that that is a more likely than not outcome, than I think it's right to act in the way that I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: More likely than not a terrorist attack. So, what are you hearing, Clarissa, about any intelligence, specific intelligence, that Downing Street may have about the crash?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the British are being very tight-lipped here. They're not giving away any information about the specific intelligence that they've received regarding this crash.
But we did hear two interesting things today. Firstly, we heard from Egyptian president, Abdul Fattah El Sisi, at the end of his meeting with Prime Minister Cameron. He said that 10 months ago, British authorities sent a team to Sharm El Sheikh Airport to look at security procedures. He said that that visit went well. But, certainly, Wolf, it's fair to say that this isn't the first time that British authorities have been looking at security at the Sharm El Sheikh Airport.
Now, the second thing that we're hearing today comes from EasyJet. This is one of the airlines, a low-cost budget airline, that will be helping to evacuate those roughly 20,000 British citizens from Sharm El Sheikh tomorrow. Now, what they have said is that no passengers will be allowed to take check-in luggage on the plane. All luggage will have to be given to EasyJet personnel who will then arrange for it to make its way back to the United Kingdom.
[13:05:01] But there will be no check-in luggage. They are also saying that they are being very strict about any hand luggage. They're allowed one small piece of cabin luggage each, Wolf. And they're saying that it should not be larger than the size of a laptop bag. So, certainly, fair to assume that baggage handlers are possibly being looked into as somehow being related to this whole threat.
BLITZER: Clarissa, stand by for a moment.
Ian, you're there at the airport at Sharm El Sheikh. I know you've been there on several earlier occasions. What's it like today? Give us a little scene, how tight security is, have they strengthened security, what are people doing there? I assume a lot of foreigners are trying to get out of there.
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. And I arrived here, on this trip, earlier this morning. I -- one thing I noticed was, for the most part, at least when we arrived, it was quite empty. There were -- you saw those jets, those EasyJets, were on the tarmac, just waiting there, idling, standing by.
We also saw an increase in the police presence outside of the terminal. And actually leading into the airport complex, there was another checkpoint and they would have bomb sniffing dogs. We've seen security guards going, opening trunks, looking and really scrutinizing the cars that are coming in here. And that's just before you get inside the terminal.
Once you get inside there, there's also other layers of security that we've been seeing. At least two scans, going through two x-rays. You're going through two metal detectors. You're getting a pat down. Really an increase in security that we're seeing.
And talking to people here, and about an hour or two ago, we saw hundreds of people coming here, flying out. We asked them if they felt safe. And about everyone did. They said that they didn't really have any security concerns. We talked to some people earlier today whose flights were delayed because of this U.K. ruling. And they said they were really just frustrated. They wanted to get back home. They didn't really understand what was going on.
But U.K. officials have been here helping them out. They aren't releasing too much information. We know that team was here, scrutinizing the security measures. They said, though, that the atmosphere was cooperative. That the Egyptians and the British were working together well to come to some sort of mutual agreement about the security measures. And, as we're hearing from Clarissa, that EasyJet is going to be having flights tomorrow. We are hearing eight flights tomorrow.
So, it seems like, at least from what EasyJet is doing, that this security problem has somewhat been resolved.
BLITZER: We know that Sharm El Sheikh, a very popular tourist destination, especially for Europeans. It's not that far away. Maybe hundreds of thousands visit there every single year.
All right, guys, stand by.
U.S. and British officials say intelligence suggests ISIS or one of its affiliates may have planted a bomb on the plane. That terrorists may have had inside help at that Egyptian airport at Sharm El Sheikh.
Let's discuss all of this and more with my next guest. The Republican Congressman, Mac Thornberry, from Texas. He's the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, previously served on the House Permanent Select Committee on intelligence.
Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us. So, what can you tell us about this disaster, why 224 people had to die?
REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS, CHAIRMAN, HOUSE ARMED SERVICES: Well, we are continuing to investigate to narrow down the exact cause of this crash. Two things we know for sure. One is there is a significant terrorist presence in Egypt. Secondly, we know that terrorists have intentionally targeted airliners from -- since -- from 911 to the present time.
So, after 911, remember, we had the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber. We had the print cartridge bombing attack. So, they're adaptable. They keep looking for ways to plant explosive devices on airplanes and cause those airplanes to come down. And they will continue to pursue that target and be adaptable in the methods that they use.
BLITZER: Are you hearing one specific group? Because there are some suggestion it could be ISIS. It could be an ISIS affiliate or an ISIS supporter or AQAP, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or maybe a Muslim Brotherhood kind of affiliate? What are you hearing about who may have been responsible for the downing of this plane?
THORNBERRY: Well, I don't think that -- I don't know of any of the intelligence organizations that have narrowed it down that far. We know that AQAP, Al Qaeda in Yemen, has consistently targeted airplanes as one of their key objectives.
So, you know, the first question is why did this plane go down? It was traveling at a fairly high altitude and, all of a sudden, it's down on the ground, killing everyone. So, narrowing down that. And then you go from there into who did it. That does take some time, although I think as more evidence comes in from around the world that probably, my guess is, more countries will reach the conclusion that the British have.
[13:10:14] BLITZER: It's a very dangerous part of the world right now, Sinai. And as you know, and you're the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, there are about 700 U.S. soldiers, part of this multinational force, in Sinai right now. How secure are they? We know four of them were injured early in September by a roadside bomb. Are they secure? Should they be there or should they get out?
THORNBERRY: Well, it's -- they played a very important mission for many years in helping ensure the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt is maintained. And so, to have them pulled out, all of a sudden, could have major repercussions. I think it is important, however, for us to re-evaluate their security.
And it just highlights, Wolf, that we have individuals, men and women in the military and the intelligence community, who are placed all around the world, sometimes in relatively small numbers, risking their lives in very dangerous places and dangerous circumstances. And we should never take those for -- them for granted, especially as we move towards Veterans Day.
BLITZER: Yes, because Sinai, increasingly unfortunately, is becoming a very, very dangerous place right now.
Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.
THORNBERRY: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Mac Thornberry of Texas.
We'll have much more coverage of the Russian plane crash coming up. We're taking a closer look at the so-called chatter U.S. intelligence agencies have been looking at. Just how reliable is this chatter?
And later, we'll turn to politics here in the United States and the two sides of the presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson. He says he went through a violent phase as a teenager. CNN spoke with a number of people who knew Ben Carson back then in Michigan. We're going to hear what they have to say.
[13:16:02] BLITZER: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Let's return to our top story, the investigation of that Russian airliner crash that killed all 224 people on board. U.S. officials tell CNN there's intelligence suggesting ISIS or its affiliates, one of its affiliates, put a bomb on the plane. And that's partially based on the monitoring of the militants internal communications.
Meantime, Egypt's civil aviation minister tells our Christiane Amanpour that the United States and the United Kingdom have not shared their intelligence on the crash with Egyptian authorities.
Let's bring in our CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. He's joining us from New York. And our aviation analyst, Mary Schiavo, she's joining us from Charleston, South Carolina.
Paul, does this have the characteristics of an ISIS attack? Do they have the technology to actually detonate a bomb on a plane?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, it's certainly plausible that the ISIS affiliate in Sinai could have carried this out if they recruited an insider at Sharm el Sheikh Airport. We understand the intelligence is pointing to the fact that this was a conventional bomb rather than a sophisticated device and that it was infiltrated on to the aircraft by an insider working at the airport. And so that's well within the capability of ISIS in Sinai. That they have a lot of experience in putting together conventional explosives. And it wouldn't be difficult for them to put a timer or some other triggering device on the device.
BLITZER: Mary, you've been investigating plane crashes for many years. Would you -- would the U.S. and the U.K. say intelligence suggest that a bomb was planted on a plane if they really didn't have some substantive, perhaps classified secret information to back that up?
MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Probably not. I mean I worked on the aftermath of September 11, 2001, and those cases took 12 years. And it was really interesting to go through and do all the discovery and find out the course of that investigation because it changed dramatically, first in the weeks and then in the months and the years it went on. And it took a very long time for them to sort out all the leads. But the CIA did not share the information with the FBI at first. The State Department wasn't coordinated with the FAA. So at this juncture, it is not at all unusual for the United States and Britain not to share their intelligence information. And that's just the way they work. They keep it close hold until there's reason to share it.
BLITZER: Paul, talk to us a little bit about this so-called chatter that U.S. or U.K. or other intelligence agencies may have picked up.
CRUICKSHANK: Wolf, we understand these are intelligence strands quite separate from the on the ground investigation in Egypt. They relate to ISIS communications, private communications. There may be are other intelligence strands that they're not really telling us about, possible double agents inside ISIS. There are clearly other ways to get information. Also the possibility that ISIS may be trying to put a video together and that western intelligence agencies are getting some advanced warning of that. All this pointing to a pretty specific picture, it's got to be said, of an insider working at Sharm el Sheikh Airport infiltrating a conventional device on board a plane. The thinking is, this wasn't a sophisticated bomb that would have to try to get through airport security. They could just get it straight on the plane, Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, we can now report the TSA is actually refusing to comment on any aspect of the situation in Egypt, at least for now. What do you think they're doing right now, the TSA, as far as making sure that U.S. airliners are safe, secure?
SCHIAVO: Absolutely. The alarm bells better be going off at the TSA and they -- I hope they're working on overdrive because just a week ago the General Accounting Office came out with a report and the inspector general, Homeland Security, has done so in the past, saying that the TSA has a lot of loopholes itself to deal with. And CNN had a report about a month ago saying that they are allowing employees on to airports all over the country and those employees are not going through security. So the TSA probably shouldn't be talking. They should be working like crazy to close the loopholes in security.
[13:20:16] BLITZER: Good point. All right, Mary, thanks very much. Paul, thanks to you as well.
We'll have much more reaction coming up on what happened to that Russian plane. Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum, he's here with me, here in Washington. I'll ask him how he would handle the terror group if he's elected president. There you see him. We'll discuss when we come back.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
Several Republican presidential candidates are calling for a stepped up effort to defeat ISIS. They're responding to U.S. intelligence suggesting a bomb planted by ISIS or one of its affiliates may have brought down that Russian jet over Sinai. Republican presidential candidate, the former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum, is with me right now.
[13:25:06] Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You bet, Wolf.
BLITZER: So if you were president right now, what would you do?
SANTORUM: Well, I would have done this before this bombing, but this bombing just points out how dangerous ISIS is and is not contained to just the geographical area where they -- where they are present. They are recruiting and expanding all over the world because we have allowed them to maintain their territorial integrity. Maintain their caliphate. Maintain their claim that they are a legitimate Islamic state. As long as we allow them to maintain that, I think charade, then they're going to continue to be able to recruit. We need to, I'd say, focus our effort in Iraq, not in Syria, where it's an absolute mess, but in Iraq where we have the possibility of arming the Kurds, cooperating with the Kurdish -- the Peshmerga, cooperating with the Iraqis who want to fight and begin to move them out of Iraq. That, I think, has to be the first priority. BLITZER: Which some of your Republican challengers say they -- they would send a lot more troops, boots on the ground, not just to Iraq but to Syria as well.
SANTORUM: Yes, I'm not -- I'm not for sending troops to Syria, but I am for sending more troops to Iraq. Look --
BLITZER: Are you for a no-fly zone over Syria?
SANTORUM: Again, we have -- we have -- the president has put us in a situation in Syria that I think is untenable. We have the Russians in there right now flying. We have them attempting to help Assad. We -- now the president has seemed like, well, you know, Assad can stay for a while and that's OK. We have created an absolute cesspool in Syria and I don't think intervening in that is a good idea right now. But we have clear opportunities in Iraq. We have troops on the ground in Iraq. We are flying missions in Iraq. And we should be stepping up those to actually try to move them out of Iraq.
BLITZER: Sinai's a really dangerous place right now. The United States has about 715 or 725 soldiers in Sinai right now. They've been there going back to the signing of the Israeli/Egyptian peace treaty back in 1979. Are they secure? Are they safe? Would you keep them there or would you pull them out?
SANTORUM: Well, I mean, as -- I think we need to keep our treaty commitments between Egypt and Israel. And if -- if our Israeli allies would want them to continue to be there and the Egyptians want us to -- to maintain a presence there, I think we should -- we should continue on. I'm not particularly concerned about them. Again, we have to hit at the root. The root is ISIS. And ISIS is going to continue to be powerful unless we begin to take some of their ground.
BLITZER: But if you don't take their ground -- and they're headquartered in Raqqa, Syria, right now. And if you're not going to send U.S. troops in there, no-fly zones, how are you going to deal with them in Syria?
SANTORUM: Well, again, you deal with them where you have the front to be able to deal with them. Right now Syria is not a viable front for the United States or United States troops. The viable front is, in fact, in Iraq, and that's where we need to -- to put our boots on the ground and put our air forces in.
BLITZER: Let's talk politics for a moment while I have you. There's a big Republican debate coming up next week. I take it you're going to -- have you been told already you'll be in that second tier?
SANTORUM: I qualify in all the -- all the polls they're looking at, we qualify.
BLITZER: So you'll be in the second tier. You won't be on the main stage.
SANTORUM: Unfortunately not.
BLITZER: How disappointing is that to you?
SANTORUM: Well, it's -- look, it's difficult. I mean I have people coming up to me all the time and say, you know, I wish you were running. I said, well, I am running. Oh, really, I haven't seen you in the debates. And so, you know, the fact that the RNC and the networks have segmented this field I think has been a real injustice to a lot of candidates who, as we proved four years ago, who can sit back in the polls, in the national polls. I mean you look at Chris Christie, who's dropping down into the second debate. You know he's running, you know, fifth in New Hampshire, sixth in New Hampshire. I mean you have -- you have a guy who may be kicked out of the debate who's, you know, Bobby Jindal, who's --who's running, you know, in the top ten right now in the late -- in one of the polls, at least in Iowa.
This is -- this is the problem with using national polls that have no relationship to actually who the strongest candidates are in the states that matter. And that's in Iowa and New Hampshire. And I showed that four years ago. I was at 2 percent in the national polls the week before I won the Iowa caucuses. So I guess if you'd have excluded anybody, you'd have excluded me from the last debate in Iowa and I went on to win the caucus.
BLITZER: This last Fox poll, they're going to use it, obviously. They're going to announce later tonight who's in the first tier, the second tier, who's in no tier at all.
BLITZER: It has you basically at zero. If you take a look, Trump's at 26, Carson, 23, Cruz, 11, Rubio, 11, Bush is only at 4 percent. Everybody else, low single digits.
BLITZER: You're not even registering on this poll. And Donald Trump says anyone that low in the national polls should do this. Listen to what he said.
BLITZER: Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do I think it's time to have some of the other Republican candidates drop out? Yes. There are too many people. Look, if a person's been campaigning for four or five months and they're at zero or one or two percent, they should get out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, your response?
[13:29:44] SANTORUM: I never knew Donald Trump was afraid of competition. I mean that sort of surprises me that he would say that. That, you know, competition's a good thing. And, again, this, I think, shows a little bit of the lack of understanding of how this system works. We don't have a national primary. We have a state by state primary. And the first state is the one that I've been focusing my attention on. I feel very, very confident we're going to do well. I think we're going to do very, very well. And, in fact --
BLITZER: You're talking about Iowa?