Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Manhunt Underway for Possible 8th Attacker; New ISIS Video Warns of Attacks on U.S.; Interview with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; Obama: "Slamming the Door" on Refugees is Un-American; Urgent Hunt for Massacre Suspect and Plotters. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 16, 2015 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now:

Breaking news. On alert -- just days after the slaughter in the heart of Paris, ISIS now threatens attacks against the United States and vows to strike in Washington, D.C., where police are now stepping up security. The CIA director says the terror group likely has more attacks in the pipeline.

Mastermind -- as police carry out dozens of raids across France and Belgium where the attacks were apparently organized, we're learning the man suspected of planning the Paris massacres may be in Syria, a close associate of the ISIS leader.

And slamming the door, Republican presidential candidates called for blocking Syrian refugees and more than a dozen governors now say their states won't accept them. President Obama says slamming the door is un-American. He says it's a betrayal of the country's values.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(MUSIC)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Our breaking news: an urgent hunt is underway right now for a surviving suspect in the Paris massacres along with those who planned and facilitated the attacks.

The suspected eighth terrorist managed to escape the security net before authorities realized who he was. He's on the loose right now is considered very dangerous. There have been more than 150 raids across France and in Belgium along with multiple arrests. But the suspected mastermind of the plot a Belgian is thought to be in Syria and is thought to be a close associate of the ISIS leader.

The CIA director says ISIS could have other attacks, quote, "in the pipeline". And in a new video, ISIS is now warning that the United States could be next, vowing to strike in Washington.

As world leaders look for new ways to confront is, President Obama is defending his strategy, rejecting calls to send U.S. ground troops in to fight the terror group.

I'll speak with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they'll have full coverage of today's top stories.

Let's begin in Paris with CNN's John Berman.

John, there are extraordinary developments today, what's the latest information you have?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dramatic speech today from the French President Francois Hollande who said in no uncertain terms France is at war. And that war now not just in Syria where officials believe there is a mastermind behind these attacks, but also in the streets in France and Belgium, where there is believed to be a killer on the run.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): A plan conceived in Syria, organized in Belgium, launched in France. Tonight, authorities believe Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian citizen and close associate of is leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, is the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, hatching the idea in the ISIS stronghold in Syria, assigning it to a terror cell in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek.

Seven of the terrorists are dead, but tonight, a global manhunt for one suspect who managed to evade authorities at least once. This man, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, was questioned by French police headed to the Belgian border in the hours just after the attacks. But he was not detained. One of his brothers, a terrorist killed in the attacks, another questioned by Belgian police.

The operation, the subject of an historic speech by French President Francois Hollande to a join session of parliament in Versailles.

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): France is at war. The acts committed in Paris on Friday evening, these are acts of war. They constitute an aggression, an attack against our country, against its values, against its young people and against its way of life.

BERMAN: Hollande called for an additional 5,000 paramilitary police officers and sweeping new laws to help deport suspected terrorists. Tonight, French police engaged in nationwide raids, more than 150, seizing weapons including a rocket launcher and placing more than 100 people under house arrest.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: It is clear to me that ISIL has an external agenda.

BERMAN: Also tonight, an alarming warning from the director of the CIA in the wake of the Russian airliner explosion, the open air market bombing in Beirut, and now Paris, authorities in the U.S., France and elsewhere believe more ISIS attacks are in the pipeline.

Hiding that concern, a new ISIS video asserting a direct threat on Washington.

[17:05:05] ISIS (through translator): We say to the countries that are participating in the crusader campaign, I swear to god, you will have a similar day that France went through. I swear to god like we struck France and its stronghold Paris, we will strike America in its own stronghold, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: All right. Here in Paris, there's no mere threat, no abstraction, it is real and it has happened in this city. Behind me in the Place de la Republique, this memorial that's been here for days now, people lighting candles, leaving flowers there 24 hours a day, Wolf, because they want to be part. They want to share in this collective mourning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly do. John Berman in Paris for us. Thank you, John.

Now to the manhunt -- there have been raids across France and Belgium. One suspect managed to slip through the net early on.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward. She's in Paris for us.

Clarissa, tell us more about the hunt for this one individual terrorist Salah Abdeslam.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, wolf. Salah Abdeslam was actually stopped by the police driving towards the Belgium border just hours after that attack. He is the brother of one of the attackers who blew himself up inside the Bataclan Theater. And yet he was able after being questioned for a short while to continue on. Obviously, the thought was that he went to Belgium.

And we saw in the Brussels suburb this morning, extraordinary raid two entire city blocks shut off, the bomb squad were brought in. They brought in mobile robotic bomb units. They were detonated, explosions reported.

And all across the country here in France today, more than 150 raid raids, 23 arrests, they said that they found weapons, heavy weapons, rocket launchers. They found military clothing.

Police here not only, Wolf, looking for that elusive eighth attacker, but also trying to drill down on a larger network that would have been necessary to facilitate and orchestrate this complex and sophisticated attack. But so far, it appears no real leads, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, so far, despite all the raids in Belgium and France authorities really have not learned a whole lot more? Is that what I'm hearing?

WARD: If they have learned a whole lot more, they're certainly not -- they're certainly not sharing it. But I think it's fair to say they're not taking any chances. But all of this is really contributing to a sense of panic here, a sense of uncertainty and unease among the French people.

You know, just last night we were here. It was a very quiet memorial. And one moment, there was a rush of panic, there was a stampede. Women were running with their children screaming and crying.

And you realize that the French people are very concerned, they're very frightened. This is not a country that is simply going to return to normal life in a matter of days.

BLITZER: It's going to take a while for sure. Let's hope it stays quiet.

Clarissa, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She's a member of both the House Armed Services and the Foreign Affairs Committee. She's also an Iraq war veteran.

When you hear ISIS threatening the next attack would be right here in Washington, D.C., is that a credible threat, or are they just sort of boasting?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think after we look at what just happened in Paris, we've got to be very proactive to make sure that no city in the United States is the next target for an ISIS or al Qaeda-style attack. You know, I think as we watch this manhunt going on across Europe, I'm reminded of a vulnerability and a weakness that must be addressed.

We've got a visa waiver program that really does not address the vulnerability of the open and porous borders between Syria and Turkey. That we've seen already how many foreign fighters from across -- excuse me -- from across Europe are able to travel through those borders and are not being tracked and are not being -- they're not able to be addressed before going through that.

So, we need to temporarily suspend this visa waiver program until the intelligence community gets a handle on this. And exactly how large it is and what's going on.

BLITZER: So, what you're suggesting French citizens or Belgium citizens right now, they don't need to get a special visa if they want to come to the United States as tourists, for example. There's a visa waiver program, as you say. You say they should be required to get visa?

GABBARD: They should be required to go through the normal visa application process so that we can thoroughly vet exactly who's trying to come into the United States, because as it is now, really it could be a matter of hours before someone travels through these different borders, someone who's become a foreign fighter, who's been fighting in Syria and ends up here on the United States soil presenting a potential threat. BLITZER: Because these terrorists in Paris, these suicide bombers,

they were either French citizens, or Belgium citizens, European citizens. What you're concerned about is they could get on a plane and fly to the United States.

GABBARD: That's exactly my concern. And with -- again, with the open and porous border between Syria and Turkey and the lack of tracking from people who are coming through those borders and going from Turkey and to other European countries, especially with the thousands and thousands of foreign fighters that we're seeing from all across Europe, this is something that we've got to address immediately.

[17:10:17] BLITZER: Because if the United States imposes these kinds of visa restrictions on French or other European citizens, those countries are going to do the same thing to U.S. citizens who want to travel there. And that's going to cause a disruption in movement, in trade, business, stuff like that. You've heard those arguments.

GABBARD: I've heard those concerns, but our first and foremost concern needs to be keeping the American people safe. You want to talk about the effect on the economy if these actions are not taken, and an attack is allowed to occur here, even though we've identified this vulnerability, that is not something that anyone wants to deal with.

So, we've got to recognize the potential threat, the weaknesses that exist there and shore up those weaknesses so we don't allow something like that to occur.

BLITZER: The CIA Director John Brennan, a very important speech today in Q&A, he said that there are more ISIS attacks, in his words, in the pipeline right now. And they might be attempting to come here to the United States. That's your concern.

But he also said something very alarming. He said U.S. intelligence right now is strained. That's a pretty alarming statement.

GABBARD: It is alarming. And there are limitations to what the intelligence community can do. This is why it's so important for those in the intelligence community to be using the resources that they have to focus on those credible threats -- focus on those who have these potential links, who have been identified as potential threats to the United States rather than going through these bulk gathering of data on every single American, gathering information on all of our phone calls, that's a waste of resources.

And it really puts way too much information out there when they should be really calling that information in a very narrow fashion that's targeted on those who present a potential threat.

BLITZER: The ring leader in this particular case, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is believed to have been involved in that foiled Brussels attack last winter. But he managed to elude intelligence law enforcement in Europe and Belgium and elsewhere. He may be in Syria for all we know right now.

So, was there a major intelligence blunder in Europe?

GABBARD: I think this is exactly what we've got to look at as we learn more information about this and why I remain concerned about the open avenues of travel that people have between Europe and the United States as we deal with this very specific situation and the lack of accountability really on the intelligence communities on both sides on exactly who these foreign fighters are, where they are and what they're doing.

BLITZER: The president of the United States spoke at length about all of this today, outlining his own strategy.

Standby for a moment. I want to continue our conversation with Tulsi Gabbard.

Much more right after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:17:37] BLITZER: We're talking with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

But, first, after huddling with other world leaders in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, President Obama is now strongly defending his strategy for combating ISIS and he's slamming GOP critics who say he would slam the door -- who say he should slam the door on refugees.

Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is traveling with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at a news conference wrapping up the G20 Summit, President Obama said the war on ISIS has entered a new more aggressive phase after the Paris attacks. He also defended his strategy for defeating the terror group, a battle plan that has once again come under withering criticism.

(voice-over): On the defensive but staying the course. President Obama responded to the attacks in Paris determined to keep and expand his plan to defeat ISIS.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There will be an intensification of the strategy that we put forward, but the strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work. But as I said from the start, it's going to take time.

ACOSTA: The president responded to critics who insist he's not fighting hard enough to destroy the terrorist army, arguing those detractors are proposing what he's already doing.

OBAMA: Folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan.

ACOSTA: But Mr. Obama brushed off calls to pour thousands of U.S. troops into Iraq and Syria saying that would only repeat past mistakes. The president was visibly annoyed that his strategy was even questioned.

(on camera): Why can't we take out these bastards?

OBAMA: Well, Jim, I just -- I just spent the last three questions answering that very question. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it. But that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president also defended the assessment he made just days before the attacks in France, that ISIS had been contained, maintaining the terrorist army has lost ground. He denied that he misjudged ISIS from the start despite once describing the group as the jayvee team.

OBAMA: There has been acute awareness on the part of my administration from the start that they would have the capabilities to potentially strike in the West.

[17:20:00] ACOSTA: The president also weighed in on the discovery that at least one of the Paris attackers had posed as a Syrian refugee, insisting that the U.S. should not keep out those trying to flee ISIS.

OBAMA: Many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves. That's what they're fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.

ACOSTA: Without mentioning his critics by name, Mr. Obama snapped at Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, who urged a focus on aiding Christian migrants.

OBAMA: When I hear folks say that -- well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, we don't have religious tests to our compassion.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What's the most responsible way to do that --

ACOSTA: President also noted Marco Rubio and another GOP contender called for halt to Syrian migrants to the U.S. is the son of Cuban refugees.

OBAMA: When some of the folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution -- that's shameful.

ACOSTA: Time and again, the president promised the White House, along with the U.S. intelligence community, is working urgently to thwart every possible threat to the homeland.

OBAMA: We'll do what's required to keep the American people safe.

ACOSTA (on camera): From the G20 Summit, the president next heads to Asia where his planned agenda will pull him away from the war on ISIS, even if that fight will likely overshadow the rest of his trip, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us, thank you.

We're back with Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She's a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee, also an Iraq war veteran.

You say leave President Bashar al Assad in power right now. The U.S. has other more urgent business in fighting ISIS in Syria. But listen to what the president said on that today. Listen to this, Congresswoman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: And there are still disagreements between the parties, including most critically over the fate of Bashar Assad, who we do not believe has a role in Syria's future because of his brutal rule, his war against the Syrian people is the primary root cause of this crisis. What is different this time and what gives us some degree of hope is that as I said, for the first time all the major countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Congresswoman, has he convinced you that you got to get rid of Bashar al Assad?

GABBARD: The cause of this humanitarian crisis, the cause of these refugees, the cause of the chaos on the ground in Syria is the fact that the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and these other countries have been arming these forces and waging this war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad.

This illegal war, it's counterproductive. It has only worked over the years as we're seeing now today to strengthen our enemy, strengthen ISIS, strengthen al Qaeda as it's helped them obtain their objective, move closer to their objective.

BLITZER: So, what do you want the president to do?

GABBARD: Number one, number one priority, stop this illegal counterproductive war to overthrow the government of Assad.

BLITZER: You say it's illegal. Why is it illegal?

GABBARD: It's illegal because Congress has not -- the American people have not declared war against this sovereign Syrian government of Assad. It's counterproductive because it is working towards the exact same objective that ISIS, al Qaeda and these other Islamic extremist groups are trying to achieve.

If they achieve that, they will regain -- excuse me, they will have all of that territory under their command. And it will present a greater humanitarian threat to the region, as well as a greater threat to the world. We need to stop the illegal war and focus one pointedly on our enemy, focus one pointedly on ISIS, al Qaeda, these Islamic extremist who is have just conducted this horrific attack in Paris and who pose a threat to the region and civilization as a whole.

BLITZER: As part of their new propaganda video, ISIS, that they released today they also had this warning to the United States. Let me play this clip. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISIS (through translator): We chose boxes of ammunition and not boxes of elections, and we decided to negotiate with you in the trenches and not in the hotels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: They also warned as we reported earlier they're coming after Washington, D.C. next.

So, specifically in terms of sending U.S. troops into Syria to fight ISIS and to Iraq for that matter, but specifically Syria -- you're ready for the president to send U.S. troops in there?

GABBARD: Absolutely not. I think it would be counterproductive to our goal, our mission, which is to defeat ISIS and al Qaeda. To do that, it would play directly --

BLITZER: So how do you fight ISIS?

GABBARD: We're working with our partners on the ground, using our air assets as we have seen successfully in a few different instances in both Iraq and Syria, adequately and appropriately arm the Kurds for example with the heavy weapons and the equipment they need.

Even with all of their gains and the effective fights they've had on the ground against ISIS, the United States is still failing to give them the equipment and the adequate support that they need to really be able to deal those decisive blows. We need to be able to do more of that working with partners on the ground in order to defeat ISIS.

[17:25:03] BLITZER: You want the U.S. to start supplying heavy weapons to the Kurds, for example, the Peshmerga, directly, right?

GABBARD: Absolutely. There's no reason why the United States should continue the failed policy of upholding this Shia-led government in Baghdad when you've got the Kurds and you've got the Sunni tribes who continue to be disenfranchised and completely shutout and not empowered in any way.

BLITZER: France is stepping up its air strikes. They're using bases in the United Arab Emirates in Jordan. Britain doesn't even do any air strikes. The UAE, Jordan, some of the other friendly Arab countries, they used to do airstrikes. They've stopped doing air strikes right now.

It seems there's a bit of diminished allied involvement in the struggle against ISIS. GABBARD: And I'll tell you why, because people are being distracted

by this mission to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad. And the United States unfortunately is playing right into that. If the United States leads and sets the tone, saying ISIS and al Qaeda, these people are a threat to us all, gather our partners, gather people who are serious about this fight and gather those resources and have a strategy to effectively do it.

It's being diminished and diluted right now by this regime change mission that should not occur. We need to stop that illegal war and not make the same mistakes that have been made in the past.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, thanks very much for coming in.

GABBARD: Thanks, Wolf. Aloha.

BLITZER: Coming up, new details on the urgent hunt for those behind the Paris massacres -- raids across France and Belgium as signs point to a mastermind in Syria.

And ISIS is warning the United States may be next.

Plus, is the all-out assault that a European capital a new strategy for ISIS? Why the bloody massacre in Paris may be a game changer.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:31:24] BLITZER: Breaking news, a desperate manhunt is underway right now for a surviving suspect in the bloody Paris attacks. The ringleaders are thought to be top ISIS figures in Syria.

The CIA director John Brennan says ISIS likely has more attacks in the pipeline. And the terror group is warning of more to come. In fact, in a new video it says it will strike right at Washington, D.C.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent Pamela Brown.

Pamela, what are you learning about this investigation?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We're just getting some new information, Wolf. Multiple officials telling CNN that none of the bombers identified so far in the Paris attacks have been on any U.S. watch list, raising new questions about how the U.S. and its allies were able to track Syrian foreign fighters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): The attacks, French officials say, were plotted well in advance from inside Syria. What remains a mystery tonight is how three teams of terrorists were able to launch coordinated attacks under the radar of Western intelligence.

An international manhunt is underway for Salah Abdeslam. Sources say the 26-year-old French national was stopped by police just hours after the attack and then released. Investigators say his brother Ibrahim blew himself up at a cafe in Paris.

MOHAMED ABDESLAM, BROTHER SUSPECTED OF TERROR ATTACKS (Through Translator): We did not think for a moment that one of our brothers was related to these attacks.

BROWN: A third brother, Mohamed, was arrested after the attacks then released in Belgium. He spoke to reporters saying he does not believe his brother was involved in the attacks.

We're also learning more about the other attackers, French national Bilal Hadfi, one of the alleged suicide bombers at the soccer stadium, and Ismael Omar Mostefai, one of the suspects at the Bataclan concert hall. Officials say a man using the name Ahmad al-Mohammad entered Europe through Greece posing as a refugee and blew himself up at the Stade de France. Samy Amimour who detonated a suicide belt at the Bataclan had been a subject of an international arrest warrant since 2013.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: This was something that was deliberately and carefully planned over the course, I think, of several months in terms of making sure that they had the operatives, the weapons, the explosives with the suicide belts.

BROWN: Six of the attackers spent time training in Syria. Belgian authorities confirmed they lost track of some of them.

KOEN GEENS, BELGIAN JUSTICE MINISTER: We were not aware that some of them already returned.

BROWN: Tonight intelligence sources tell CNN at this point of the investigation it does not appear any of the attackers were known to the U.S.

Today, Attorney General Loretta Lynch addressed potential risks of foreign fighters launching an attack on U.S. soil.

(On camera): Do you feel that there's adequate intelligence sharing with our European counterparts to prevent people like the Paris attackers who we know went over to Syria and trained from boarding a plane and coming to the U.S. given the visa waiver program?

LORETTA LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Our relationship with our European counterparts in this area is robust. And it is strong. And we are always working to make sure that not only we but they also have the information that they need.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And U.S. investigators are increasingly convinced the attackers used encrypted communications to evade French intelligence. One U.S. official describing that as an educated presumption in part because some of the attackers who French authorities already had information on before the attacks were known to have used popular encrypted apps. In addition U.S. analysts have been combing through signal intelligence including e-mail and other communications, and have turned up very little, Wolf. Still very early on in this investigation.

BROWN: Yes. Hopefully they get some progress and they'll find all these guys and find them quickly.

Pamela, thanks very much. We're following the breaking news in a newly released video. Members of ISIS now threatening attacks in Europe and in Washington, D.C.

[17:35:06] The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI now say there's no specific credible information of an attack on the U.S. homeland. Not so long ago ISIS fighters were concentrated on capturing territory largely in Syria and Iraq.

Brian Todd is looking into this apparent change in their strategy. What are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight we're getting new information about the shifts in tactics by ISIS. The coordinated assaults in Paris we're told coming in the wake of the Beirut suicide attacks and the downing of the Russian passenger plane together signify game changing measures from the terror group which have put Western intelligence on its heels.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The moment inside the Bataclan Theater when terrorists unleashed their Kalashnikovs. Coordinated suicide bombers detonate outside the packed Stade de France. The carnage in Paris leading U.S. and European officials to warn tonight that ISIS is turning a page in its strategy.

BRENNAN: ISIL has developed an external operations agenda that is now implementing -- it is implementing with lethal effect. Their agenda is to kill. Pure and simple. As referred to them as murderous sociopaths.

TODD: Paris was hit the day after ISIS claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings in Beirut. An ISIS affiliate is believed to have brought down a Russian passenger plane with 224 people on board. Three devastating terror hits in less than two weeks.

THOMAS SANDERSON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: ISIS is clearly emboldened by these attacks. I've seen this sort of damage and destruction that is created.

TODD: But why now when a principal goal of ISIS to this point has been to capture and hold territory in Iraq and Syria?

MICHAEL WEISS, AUTHOR, "ISIS: INSIDE THE ARMY OF TERROR": As ISIS loses terrain, particularly in northern Syria, they want to increase, escalate the number of attacks that they wage abroad because, again, this is the way that they sell themselves.

TODD: The Paris attacks bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda, coordinated cells, well-planned, high profile, designed to inflict mass casualties. And there's growing evidence tonight that ISIS' central leadership in Iraq and Syria is calling the shots in these as asymmetric attacks. Sources in France tell CNN two prominent ISIS members thought to be in Iraq or Syria may have masterminded the Paris onslaught.

One of them, Abdel-Hamid Abu Oud, is, according to a source very close to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The source says Abu Oud would certainly be in contact with Baghdadi in planning an attack like this.

What is ISIS' goal in launching mass casualty attacks on soft targets?

SANDERSON: I think their goal in conducting these attacks is to push back those who are pushing against them and to make sure that people feel vulnerable at home such that they will maybe not engage in the kind of counter ISIS activities that we've seen of late.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And more asymmetric attacks could be on the way from ISIS. CIA director John Brennan says given the resources devoted to the Paris assaults, the weapons, the explosives, that probably wasn't the only operation ISIS had in the pipeline. And in a new propaganda video put out since the Paris attacks, ISIS has threatened to hit Paris again, to attack Rome and Washington, D.C. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And U.S. officials are taking those threats seriously.

Brian, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our experts, former congresswoman Jane Harman, she was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, she now heads the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington. Also joining us our national security analyst Peter Bergen and our counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, a former CIA official, as well as CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Guys, we have a lot to assess right now. Let me take a quick break. We'll gather the information. Much more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:38:28] BLITZER: Continuing to follow the breaking news. The manhunt for those behind the Paris terror attacks a new ISIS threat specifically threatening an attack here in Washington, D.C. We're here with our intelligence and national security counterterrorism military experts.

Jane Harman, the CIA director John Brennan says more of these attacks, in his words, are now in the pipeline. Could ISIS execute a 9/11 style attack in the United States now?

JANE HARMAN, DIRECTOR, PRESIDENT AND CEO, WILSON CENTER: I doubt it. It could execute an attack but I doubt anything catastrophic, although it's not impossible. They have to be lucky once. We have to be right 100 percent of the time. We're doing a lot to make our homeland secure, plus we don't have the assimilation problem that Europe has. What we do have is pretty consistent to know who's here. And we're building trust with communities and they're turning people in.

We also have a good system to block travelers who shouldn't be here. An electronics system called ESTA, and we should tighten I think our visa waiver system. But we also should let refugees in but vet them carefully.

BLITZER: But the problem is of the terrorists who committed the horrors in Paris, most of them were not on any watch list. Most of them were belgian or French citizens. Nothing would have stopped them from flying, getting on a flight in Paris and flying to the United States, getting weapons, getting explosives, doing whatever they want right here in the United States. They easily could have done that.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Sure. I mean, if you talk about this conversation about whether this could happen here and a lot of people say, no, I can't see something of this magnitude. I don't get that conversation. First, you have six, seven, eight people in this case who are gathering. You can find that number of ISIS sympathizers in states all across America. Second, access to weapons. You can get that at any gun show in America. Third, access to locations that aren't hardened.

[17:45:11] If you want to say this can't happen here, I'd put those three together and tell me, how can you argue that you can't have that combination of characteristics?

BLITZER: General Hertling, do you want to weigh in on this?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I definitely do. And Phil is right on target. First of all, you just need two things to conduct an attack. You need the desire, which we've just seen a film from ISIS that says they now have the desire to attack outside Syria and Iraq. And you need the capability. And as Phil just said the guns in the United States are much more prevalent than anywhere in Europe. They had to go probably to the eastern block to get those AK- 47s that they use.

And it's not that difficult to put a suicide vest together. Even though we've said this is a complex attack in Paris and it was a coordinated, you could take eight guys and train them to do this in a heartbeat, Wolf. The uncomfortable truth is, I'm very surprised we haven't had this kind of attack in the United States yet.

BLITZER: And that visa waiver program is now being criticized, you heard Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard say she wants to get rid of it even from friendly countries like France and Belgium. She wants to make sure that people are screened before they just get on a tourist visa, come to the United States and that's that. Would that really be effective if the visa waiver program were removed?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it would be very effective and damaging severely to the U.S. economy and the European economy and the global economy. I mean, I don't think that's a sensible plan at all. And I would agree with Jane, you know, a catastrophic attack by ISIS in this country is very, very unlikely. That the kinds of cases we've seen since the beginning of the year we've had more ISIS cases than any other time in our history since 9/11.

BLITZER: When you say catastrophic, though, Peter, what would stop these terrorists instead of doing what they did in Paris, coming to the United States, getting machine guns, whatever, going to a rock concert, which is just loaded with 1,000 American young kids, and just starting to shoot them.? That would be pretty catastrophic.

BERGEN: It would be. But we've had, you know, almost 15 years since 9/11. That's always been true. That's always been a possibility. It just hasn't happened because it is more complicated than people are presenting. Yes, weapons are available. Yes, there are sympathizers, but they don't have this huge infrastructure and support network that they have in Europe. We've had 1800 French men go to Syria to fight. We've had maybe a few dozen Americans get there. It's a very different --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. Hold your thoughts for a second because we're going to continue this conversation. We have a lot more to assess. We're also getting more information coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:47:05] BLITZER: Back with our security and counterterrorism experts as we follow the breaking news. New ISIS threats of terrorist-style attacks across Europe and specifically here in Washington.

President Obama today predicted his strategy of trying to bring together nations including reaching out to both Russia and Iran ultimately will work in defeating ISIS.

Phil Mudd, will that strategy work, the strategy laid out by the president today?

MUDD: I think the president is right on this. Look, we're confusing two things. Number one, threat to the United States, and number two, territory in Syria. There is a fight in Syria that foreigners, that is the Iraqis and others, should be leading. We should be supporting them. That has little to do with a small sliver of a terror organization that's plotting against Paris or New York or Washington. We should focus our resources on the terror aspect of ISIS and support other people who are focusing on the geography that ISIS control.

BLITZER: But, General Hertling, if you take a look at the map, the president says ISIS is contained geographically in Iraq and Syria. They're holding on to what they had but they're not getting any further. But you take a look at other countries they clearly are expanding their reach. It's very, very alarming when you see where they have now established serious beach holes.

HERTLING: Yes, I'm not sure they're expanding their reach, Wolf, as much as it is as other organizations are wanting the brand name of ISIS. Some of those other organizations have existed for a very long time. Wilayat Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula, Boca Haram in Nigeria, several of the other ones all over the region. And now they are assuming the name of ISIS and it appears that ISIS is growing.

Now they certainly may have some control in those different terrorist organizations but they are being struck hard in Iraq and Syria and they are suffering from that and that may be one of the reasons they're looking for other places to strike like Sinai and Paris.

BLITZER: And the president today held firm. He's not sending U.S. troops on the ground into Syria to fight ISIS.

HARMAN: Yes, I heard him say that but we are increasing our kinetic action. Let's understand that ISIS is an army, it's also an idea and we have to defeat the ideas as well as the army.

Just two more points from before, we do have an electronic system that checks travelers coming into the U.S. It's not just the visa waiver program. Our program is called ESTA. And we carefully check. There is a problem if no one was in any data base. I think that will prove not to be true. That none of them was in any data base, but for homegrown terrorists, we have some confidence we know who is here. We're building trust with communities. Our people are our force multiplier and just terrifying them with this B roll on TV, I don't think is our best move, Wolf. There are a lot of success stories in the country and welcoming diversity but carefully checking --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: When the CIA director John Brennan says today there are other plots in the pipeline, that's the CIA director saying that. That's not just a bunch of pundits.

HARMAN: I agree.

BLITZER: He has access -- hold your thought because we got to take a break but he has access to a lot of sensitive information. He does not give a speech like that. Just randomly. He knows obviously a lot more about plots than we do around this table.

[17:55:06] But, guys, stand by. Coming up also, the mastermind as urgent security sweeps continue in Europe. We're learning the man suspected of planning the Paris massacres may be in Syria, a close associate of the ISIS leader.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, attacks in the pipeline in the wake of the Paris terror attacks a very troubling warning today from CIA director saying is ISIS likely working on more operations and now the terrorists are vowing to strike Washington, D.C. What are they planning?

Worldwide manhunt, the urgent search for an eighth suspect wanted in connection with the Paris massacres and we're learning new information about the possible mastermind behind the attacks.