Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; Terror Investigation; Bomb Threat in Germany; Report: Witness Video May Show Additional Terrorist. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired November 17, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: How far is the ISIS threat spreading?
Intelligence failures. The Paris terrorists hiding in plain sight before their attack, some of them already known to police, and their suspected ringleader faking his own death to travel between Syria and Europe. How were so many terror signals missed?
Washington threatened. With ISIS vowing to threaten the capital, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence, they are now looking at the Paris massacres for clues about what ISIS may be plotting. Are they learning enough to stop an attack on American soil?
And expanding coalition. Vladimir Putin declares the downing of a Russian jet in Egypt an act of terror and signals a new willingness to work with the West to fight ISIS in Syria. Is the alliance that World War II coming together again for a new war on terror?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on multiple fronts in the investigation into the Paris terrorist attacks and the terror threat that is now spreading across Europe.
Tonight, German police say they have received what they are calling concrete evidence from French intelligence sources of a plot by an Iraqi sleeper cell to bomb a stadium in the city of Hannover. It was evacuated just about 90 minutes before an international match which the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and at least three other top government officials had been expected to attend.
Also breaking now, counterterrorism and intelligence sources are telling CNN investigators have recovered multiple, yes, multiple cell phones at the scenes of the terrorist attacks believed to have belonged to the terrorists. At least one phone had an apparent launch message indicating the killers were ready to strike.
And tonight an official source close to the investigation says there's a strong presumption that a second terror suspect is now still at large. That would be in addition to Salah Abdeslam, who was stopped by police hours after the attack on his way towards the Belgium border, but released because he hadn't yet been linked to the Paris operation.
We're covering all angles of the breaking news this hour with our guests, including Senate Intelligence Committee member James Risch, as well as our correspondents and our expert analysts.
Let's go to Paris first.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is standing by.
Jim, you're learning new details of this investigation.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. We're learning tonight that warning to Germany came from French intelligence, intelligence that a radical Islamist near the German city of Hannover was planning to attack a major sporting event with explosives loading into a vehicle, getting into a protected area there.
They cleared the stadium. They did not find evidence of explosives, but I can tell you here the state of alert in Paris, in France, equally high if not greater with new information tonight that not one but two potential terrorists involved in the horrible attacks here on Friday are still at large.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, an international manhunt is under way with raids across Europe, searching for suspects known and unknown, police in action in Germany, and, in France, more than 100 raids, including on the apartment of Salah Abdeslam, the alleged eighth Paris attacker who is still on the run, and now a second unnamed suspect in the deadly rampage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first priority of the French authority is actually to stop a possible second attack. They want to make sure that whoever is part of that group of people, they're not also planning another attack in the coming days.
SCIUTTO: As investigators trace the network behind the Paris attacks, the trail consistently leads to this alleged mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. The Belgian national believed to be hiding in Syria is the suspected driving force behind Friday's attacks in Paris, a January plot in Belgium to kill police officers, and a failed attack on a high-speed train in August thwarted by three Americans.
He's been on the U.S. radar as well. The Department of Homeland Security intelligence assessment published in May warned that ISIS had developed capability to plan and carry out complex attacks in the West and noted that Abaaoud appeared to have faked his death in Syria to help elude authorities while traveling between Syria and Belgium. With an estimated 11,000 terror suspects, French authorities say they are simply overwhelmed. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have the number of policemen to
monitor 10,000 people. So the situation is intelligence and we have to improve our intelligence system to detect -- better detection of jihadists. That's the problem.
SCIUTTO: I'm told that U.S. law enforcement here in France is cooperating very closely with French intelligence, providing any help that they ask for, but also a focus of U.S. law enforcement here and certainly back in the U.S. is a threat of ISIS to the U.S. homeland.
And I'm told that that threat is not only aspirational, but that U.S. law enforcement, U.S. counterterror officials believe there is plotting under way for attacks on the U.S. It's a threat, Wolf, that they are taking very seriously.
BLITZER: I know that for a fact myself. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that report.
Let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward.
She's also in Paris.
Clarissa, you're learning more about these terror suspects and how they were radicalized. What have you learned?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, what we know now from our affiliate BFM-TV is that at least six of the attackers spent time in Syria.
Of that, we know several them, while being French nationals, were living in Belgium. Belgium has one of the highest numbers per capita of nationals traveling to Syria and to Iraq to join the jihad. We know that the alleged mastermind of this attack, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, that he also was from Belgium, that he was part of a street gang along with Salah Abdeslam, who is now the focus of this manhunt.
Many of these guys, Wolf, have criminal records, they have long rap sheets, they know how to evade police, they know how to avoid detection, they know how to buy weapons. But what this really reveals as well is how much the nature of jihad has changed. It used to be that jihad was Arabic speakers living in caves in Afghanistan and recruitment was done through the mosques.
Nowadays, these guys are all friends. They're parts of the same networks, same gangs, and they're recruiting each other over social media from Syria, from Iraq, talking directly to people in their homes, inside Belgium. One counterterrorism official told me they are calling it bedroom jihad and often even their families don't know that this radicalization is taking place -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And not all of them are stupid either. Some of them are pretty educated, especially with computers and new social media techniques. Right?
WARD: They are young, they're technologically savvy, they know how to get rid of their cell phones, they know to use encrypted software.
I have been communicating with quite a few of them over the past year. They will only talk to me over programs like Surespot or on secret chats on Telegram. They are street-smart and they're technologically savvy, Wolf.
BLITZER: Clarissa Ward in Paris for us, thanks very much.
Let's dig deeper. Sources telling CNN investigators in Paris have recovered multiple cell phones believed to belong to those terrorists.
Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, is working this story for us.
There was apparently a very chilling message on a phone that they discovered. Tell us about it.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
Not only have they recovered multiple cell phones, but they have also found encrypted apps on some of these cell phones that are believed to belong to the attacker. One of the cell phones had this message that investigators believe was sent before the attack began. It said something to the effect of, OK, we're ready.
That's what investigators believe and what they have been looking for, an indication that these attackers coordinated this attack. There had to be some kind of way in which they signaled to each other that it was time to go. Some of them probably got stuck in traffic. They were heading to the stadium.
They were heading to multiple locations. And so the investigators have long known that there had to be some way they would be able to coordinate the simultaneous attacks that they were able to carry out. What this really shows, Wolf, is that the fears that we have long heard about, about the use of encrypted apps as a way for terrorists to stay below the radar has come to pass.
We don't know exactly the apps that these guys were using. We don't even know what exactly they used to be able to hide from authorities, but we do know that they left so little of a trace that investigators are having a hard time figuring out exactly where they have been.
BLITZER: Well, now that they have multiple cell phones, that might help in this investigation. Evan, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on what is going on.
Joining us now, Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator, thanks, as usual, for joining us. We have lots to discuss. Let's go through several of the late-breaking developments.
First of all, the German media now reporting that France actually alerted German police to what was described as an Iraqi sleeper who had plans to blow up this soccer stadium in Hannover, Germany, today at a game, an international match between the Netherlands and Germany that Angela Merkel, the chancellor, was supposed to attend as well.
What can you tell us about it? Specifically, do you know if this was another ISIS plot?
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Well, obviously, at this point, you can't say positively that it was an ISIS plot, but chances are 99.9 percent that it was.
It's really early in the investigation on this, Wolf. Obviously, the European authorities are working on that. We do have people over there now, as you have noted on your show, that are willing and ready to help and our technology, our intelligence work is substantially better than their, substantially better anyone else in the world.
They do call on us for help and we stand ready to help and it's in our interests to do so, because we're in the crosshairs just like they are.
BLITZER: We're going to get to that in a moment, but these cell phones that were found on the scene, presumably belonging to the terrorists who killed themselves with their explosive vests, they potentially be critical in determining, getting more information about these terrorists who executed the attacks and how the whole thing unfolded, right?
RISCH: Yes. I would give that a maybe.
But what it does do is it confirms now in open source what we have known for a long time. And that is that these people are very, very good in using the dark side of the Internet to communicate and to be able to do it to where you can't get at it, at least under present technology.
But, obviously, whenever these things happen, when new technology comes up, there's always ways to try to penetrate that. But, for right now, it is a serious problem for us, as you have noted in previous shows.
BLITZER: How sophisticated was this terror attack in Paris?
RISCH: Well, more sophisticated than most.
People always said that the 9/11 attack was very sophisticated. When you break it down, it really wasn't, particularly compared to the kind of things that are done today. This one, the one that took place in Paris, required a lot of coordination.
And I think, if it tells us anything, it tells us that they are very good at using social media and the means of communication today that are available to ordinary people and people who are engaged in nefarious acts.
BLITZER: The plot clearly was missed by law enforcement, by intelligence in Europe, here in the United States, I should say, as well. There wasn't any direct intelligence warning of this imminent attack in Paris, I take it; is that right?
RISCH: To a degree.
First of all, the one thing that is clear to us is that the four people who have been identified by the French were known to us. They were people that were known to us. They were not known to the Europeans.
And I suspect we're going to do some things to change that. As far as the mechanics of the attack, the exact time and that sort of thing, you're right. That -- we didn't have that. And it was the result of the encrypted type of communications that they are using.
There was, as has been reported, general indications that things were heating up. And, of course, once it all started to unfold, everybody knew what was happening.
BLITZER: Well, when you say these four terrorists were known to the U.S., were they on U.S. watch lists, do-not-fly lists?
RISCH: Wolf, I can't tell you exactly what that means. But what I can tell you is these people were known to us, known to be involved in terrorist activity, known to be people who need to be scrutinized. Which exact lists they were on is classified.
BLITZER: All right, Senator, we have more to discuss because we're getting more information right now on this expanding investigation. Stay with us.
Much more with Senator Risch when we come back.
BLITZER: We have a key race alert and breaking news.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has just announced he's suspending his campaign for the Republican presidential campaign.
In a written statement, the Louisiana governor says he doesn't go in to details about why he's dropping out of the race, but he does say, going forward, "I believe we have to be the party of growth and we can never stop being the party that believes in opportunity." He says, "I am suspending my campaign for president of the United States."
All right, Bobby Jindal dropping out of this race right now.
Let's get back to the Senate Intelligence Committee member James Risch. He's back with us, a member of the Intelligence Committee.
Senator, stand by, because we're getting some more information right now, more breaking news, a source telling CNN there's "a strong presumption" another terror suspect is at large in addition to Salah Abdeslam who is wanted for those terrorist attacks.
Let's bring in our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick.
Deborah, with ISIS threatening to attack Washington, D.C., U.S. officials, they are clearly study the Paris massacres very closely.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They really are, Wolf, because they want to see what they missed.
In hindsight, certain clues, certain arrests become much more relevant than they were before Paris happened. For example, a man stopped in Germany almost a week before the attacks with eight Kalashnikovs, and Paris as the destination set in his GPS.
Investigators are looking at what information they have and what information that they need to share with others to possibly prevent an attack.
FEYERICK (voice-over): With ISIS now threatening to strike the United States...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We will strike America in its stronghold, Washington.
FEYERICK: ... the police chief there is making sure all threats are run to ground.
CATHY LANIER, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA POLICE CHIEF: My philosophy is, no matter the level of credibility, we have to act as if every one of them is credible, because the first time you take those things for granted, it could be a mistake.
FEYERICK: U.S. officials are analyzing the Paris attacks in minute detail, the FBI dispatching special agents to help the French any way they can, but also to identify any intelligence that could foreshadow a plot against the U.S.
DIEGO RODRIGUEZ, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR IN CHARGE: And so, at this time, we're trying to just get any information that might tie us back to the city that we might have to conduct any further investigation.
FEYERICK: At the Paris command center, three NYPD detectives have been attending briefings and reporting back, NYPD officials trying to learn as much as they can about the suicide bombs, how they were built and detonated. Traces of the explosive TATP have been recovered from the Paris
crime scene, according to French officials. That's a big concern to law enforcement, as similar explosives were used in the plot against the New York City subway in 2009. That plot was uncovered. But, in Paris, the seven suicide bombers were able to stay below the radar.
WILLIAM BRATTON, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: We seek to understand what are they retrieving from the seven assailants whose remains they recovered? What type of devices were they using for communication, what type of smartphone, what types of apps possibly on that phone?
FEYERICK: The Paris attacks were well-organized, the CIA director warning about external operations, concerns about ISIS' ability to launch attacks outside its stronghold in Syria and Iraq. This appears to be the second cell organized by ISIS central under the command of sudden ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national.
In January, Belgian commandos raided an ISIS safe house in Verviers, killing two operatives, taking a third into custody, inside, weapons, fake documents, and precursor chemicals to make TATP.
Authorities in Europe and the U.S. are now looking at similarities in both plots, attempting to gain additional intelligence to possibly stop another attack from happening.
FEYERICK: And Wolf, in May, DHS issued an intelligence assessment that essentially said that ISIS does have the capability to carry out attacks in the West. That clearly has now been elevated, a lot of people shaken by the fact that this cell was on no one's radar before it happened -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They should be shaken by that. All right, thanks very much, Deborah Feyerick.
Senator Risch is still with us.
Senator, ISIS says they're coming. They're coming here to Washington, D.C., next. How is it believed ISIS would attempt to attack the U.S.? Is this a serious threat?
RISCH: Well, it is a serious threat.
This video that's gotten a lot of play in and of itself doesn't mean a lot, because there's lots of those floating around out there on the Internet. The timing of it, however, is troubling, because it comes right on the heels of not just the Paris attack, but if you step back and think that in the last three weeks, ISIS has killed over 500 people, and they have attacked the air transportation system and were successful.
They used IEDs in Lebanon. They were successful. And now they hit the soft targets, which are very, very vulnerable in Paris. And if you put all three of those together, that is pretty impressive, that they were able to hit all three of those kinds of ways of carrying on an attack.
So it's troubling. It's concerning to all of us. And as time goes by, we're continuing to ratchet things up here in the United States.
RISCH: Go ahead.
BLITZER: I just want to clarify one thing, because you told us that four of these terrorists who were involved in the Paris terror attacks were known to the U.S.
But we have been reporting, we have been told that none of them were really on any U.S. watch lists. So, there seems to be some confusion there. What specifically -- how far can you go in telling us what is going on?
RISCH: You know, I can't, Wolf.
What I can tell you is this. They were known to the U.S. How that information came to us, the manner that we got that, what lists they are on, that stuff is all classified. And I can't go there. And you're going to have to cut me slack on that. But I can tell you that they were known to us.
BLITZER: All right, because the only thing that concerns me, if they were known to the U.S. and they weren't on any U.S. watch list, that would seem to be a major blunder there.
And I think we're going to have to investigate to make sure that wasn't the case. But I'm going to leave you alone. I know you can't talk about it.
RISCH: There was no major blunder there. Let me tell you that.
BLITZER: All right, well, that's good to know.
Let's talk a little bit about this mastermind of the Paris attacks, this guy Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Back in January, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we had a report from our Paul Cruickshank. I want you to listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, a senior Belgian official tells me they think that the ringleader behind this plot in Belgium last week was very likely Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian Moroccan who is 27 years old who is thought to have traveled in around January of 2014 to Syria and to have connected there in Syria and Iraq with the senior leadership of ISIS.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So back in January, we reported that. We knew he was a threat. U.S. officials knew he was a threat.
So why wasn't more done to target this guy, to find him?
RISCH: Well, you know, we do look for the high-value targets.
There are lots and lots of them. Here in the United States, it's substantially easier to do than it is over there. And there's a lot of different reasons, but one of them is that they have, particularly France, particularly Belgium, have a very large population of Middle Eastern, North African people, many of whom are on the list that they want to keep an eye on.
You heard earlier that the French themselves have admitted that they are overwhelmed with a number of people they have that need to be watched. And so, as a result of that, we obviously are focused first and foremost on the United States, who's coming, who is going, who is doing what here. It's much more difficult for the Europeans to do that for the reasons that I mentioned and for other reasons.
BLITZER: Yes, I know that they have got their problems over there.
Final question, Senator. What U.S. officials have said to me, what really concerns them about ISIS is the tons of cash. They have a lot of money. They have all that oil revenue when they took over Mosul in Northern Iraq, a city of two million people. They robbed the banks, they took the gold, they took the cash. They have got a ton of -- they have got billions of dollars to launch terror attacks. How much of a problem is that?
RISCH: Big problem.
In fact, if anything that we can underscore there is, that is the difference between they and al Qaeda. They have been very smart as far as focusing on how important money is in carrying on the jihad. And they get their money from essentially three sources.
They get it from the sale of oil. They get it from kidnappings and they get it from contributions from wealthy radicals around the world. And early on, when they started, the assessment was they were taking in around $2 million a day. That has gone up, but I can tell you that that is a specific targeting enterprise for the United States of America and for our partners who are trying to do something about ISIS.
BLITZER: It's a huge problem, indeed. Money talks, as they say, and they have got a lot of it.
Senator Risch, thanks very much for joining us.
RISCH: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're learning new information about the investigation into the Paris attacks. We're going back to Paris live. That's coming up.
Also, Vladimir Putin confirming a terror attack on a Russian plane and vowing to punish the perpetrators. How closely is he willing to work with the U.S. in this war against ISIS?
[18:32:58] BLITZER: Breaking news we're following. French media now reporting that police are looking at a video shot by a witness that points to the possible third individual, previously unknown, inside one of the cars used in the Paris terror attacks.
Let's go to our CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. He's in Paris for us, working the investigation. What are you learning, Nic?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, a witness to the attack, Wolf, shot video that may indicate that there were three people involved with the -- or associated with the black Seat car. Two gunmen and a driver.
We've known until now that associated with this black Seat car was Saleh Abdeslam. We know that there's an arrest warrant out for him here in France and in Belgium. He's on the run. We'd learned earlier that there was possibly a second accomplice that was on the run.
Now the police are looking at this video that's been provided by a member of the public, who shot the scene as it was happening. They're trying to determine, does this now mean that they should be looking for a third person on the run?
This Seat, of course, found a couple of days ago in a suburb of Paris. It had three Kalashnikovs in the back of the vehicle. Does that indicate there were three people associated with that vehicle? Saleh Abdeslam, they know they're looking for him. Now looking for, potentially, two other people, as well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Nic. Stand by. I want to get some more on what's going on right now.
Joining us, our CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank; the former assistant FBI director, our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes; and the former CIA official, our counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd.
Phil, if you were sitting with the president of the United States right now, and he asked you what do we need to do, first and foremost, to prevent this kind of terror attack here in the United States, what would you say?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I would tell him a couple things. First, I would go to Silicon Valley, bring in the Internet providers, and say, "Here's your top-secret clearance. Here's what's happening with encryption of this case. You guys got to figure out that as California, Silicon Valley, how to help us get into people's e-mails."
The second thing I'd say is you've got to have a conversation with Secretary Perry [SIC] that says we have principles we wanted to apply in Syria. We'd like a democratic transition. We're going to have to sacrifice those in -- in the effort to find stability. We're going to have to figure out a way to work with the Russians to bring this place under control.
BLITZER: Because these encrypted communications, these apps these terrorists are using, the U.S., the law enforcement in Europe, they can't monitor it?
MUDD: That's right. And the people in California will say, "Look, we can't give you the information on what's happening on our websites, on e-mails, for example, because we don't control it anymore. It's encrypted."
We've got to have a conversation to get around that, because in the intelligence business, you've got two ways to get intel. One is informants; two is wires. And we're losing wires.
BLITZER: Paul, we just played a clip, you and me, talking back in January of this year about this mastermind in this attack, and we pointed out at the time how dangerous it was. You pointed it out. It was your information. But this guy for all these months, he's been on the loose right now. Why is it so hard to find him?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, that's exactly right. We were reporting on this back in January.
As you'll recall, he was thought to be the mastermind of that plot in Belgium, coordinated by cell phone from Greece in touch with the plotters in that plot in Belgium, who were back in Belgium, and also in turn in touch with the ISIS leadership in Syria.
And at the time, the Belgians brought in the Greek security services. And they also brought in the CIA to try to locate where this phone was communicating from. But by the time they went in, he had escaped. He escaped the drag net.
He's believed to have got back to Syria. That's what he claimed in an ISIS propaganda magazine. And it appears, from there, he's been able to plot more terrorist attacks. And including this one, this terrible one we just saw play out in Paris on Friday.
But he's also being linked to a number of other plots against France and Europe in recent months, including that plot against the passenger train, the fast-speed passenger train which, of course, was thwarted by those three heroic Americans -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, you're a former assistant director of the FBI. Where does the FBI fit in right now in this investigation?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the bureau has worked for years very closely with the French authorities and in this case, they would send over additional agents to supplement that, looking at the intelligence that may relate to any subjects or knowledge that the FBI has from U.S. investigations.
Also forensic investigation here. We'd like to know who made the bombs, because usually that's a very specific person that has their own technique that can be identified about who's made those bombs.
BLITZER: Here's what worries me. And Phil Mudd, you can answer this question, hopefully.
We just heard James Risch, the senator on the intelligence committee, say four of these terrorists were known to the U.S. but may not have been known to the Europeans. Doesn't the U.S. and the Europeans, the French, the Belgians, don't they share this kind of information?
MUDD: If that's true, there's got to be a serious conversation about information sharing. One of the things that happens in these circumstances is countries says, "If I collect information on some of these citizens, is it appropriate to pass along to another government that might take action on it?"
I think, in the wake of this, there have to be more serious conversations, regardless of nationality. If a French person crops up on the French radar, an American on the Americans' radar, we've got to pass that information, regardless of the consequences.
BLITZER: You know, Paul Cruickshank, you've spent a lot of time in Belgium, a lot of time in France. French officials have said to me that they think the Belgian counterterrorism officials, the law enforcement there, the intelligence service, basically incompetent. They make a pretty strong argument that these guys in Belgium, in Brussels, they don't know what they're doing. Have you heard that?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, Wolf, I can -- I would really dispute that. You know, I speak to Belgian counterterrorism officials a lot. It's a small country. They're stretched very, very thin. They've got a huge threat to deal with.
But everything that I've seen -- and I've been talking to these officials for a decade or so -- is that they do have a significant amount of experience, a significant amount of contact. They're very professional the way they go about things. They don't have some of the technical capabilities of the French and the Americans when it comes to intercepting electronic communications.
For example, they often have to -- just to get hold of e-mails, they have to go to the Americans and say, "Help us," because it's going through Internet American companies, American Internet portals.
So you know, it's a small country. It doesn't have the resources of a big country like France. But I think that's fundamentally unfair to say that they're incompetent.
BLITZER: What the French they say, what they've said to me, at least some French officials feel, is that Belgium, it's a small country, as Paul correctly points out, but you've got a Flemish- speaking population, a French-speaking population, and they don't like each other. And as a result, it spills over into their intelligence services and their law enforcement.
MUDD: I -- there's some of that happening in Europe, but I agree with Paul. There's a problem here, and we're only talking about half the problem. The first piece of it is questions that have already risen about why can't you find people when there's this extent of radicalization? Why are you letting people go when they crop up on the radar?
The second half of the conversation has to be, in a country as small as Belgium, very simple. If they're following, say, 50 targets, and they can follow 10 at a time using their resources, somebody's got to ask a simple question: Why aren't they resourced for the other 40?
This is a resource problem. It's not always a capability or an expertise problem.
BLITZER: You worked for the intelligence services when you were in the FBI, Tom. Is there a problem here in Brussels, in Belgium, which happens to be the headquarters of NATO right now?
FUENTES: No, I don't think so. I think that, you know, what's been said, that there's so many different organizations, languages, countries that have to put together all of this information, it's very difficult to coordinate.
So I think another issue comes up in this is, do the Europeans, because they're stricter on privacy laws than the U.S., do they have the metadata? This is where this comes up. A case like this, can they go back to who these people were calling two years ago, three years ago, four years ago when they were going back and forth to Syria, when they came back and started doing these plots? This is the third major attack in France in less than ten months, and the worst of all would have been the train attack.
BLITZER: So Paul, why is Brussels, why is Belgium a hot bed for the source of these terrorists who did this damage, this horrible massacre in Paris?
MUDD: Well, the root of the problem, Wolf, is the sort of inner- city areas in Brussels and other Belgian cities. These are sort of the places where there are a lot of immigrants that have come in. There's high unemployment, and there's a lot of kind of gangsterism that goes on with these kids.
And what we've seen is, increasingly, these kids getting involved in these gangsters are also getting attracted by ISIS's ideology. Because they have a sense of redemption from it, a sense of purpose from it.
But ISIS is also excusing, you know, all of their past sins, so to speak: you know, flirting with girls, drugs, all of that kind of stuff, saying, "You were corrupted by the infidel west. This is your way out. Here's your path to paradise."
And this violent street ethos that these people in these gangs have, ISIS has that same sort of violent ethos, and it really sort of resonates with them.
And as one Belgian counterterrorism official was telling me, Wolf, they're moving over to Syria as part of a super gang, and they're coming back as gangs, as well. And, of course, they know how to act as a gang. They know how to communicate. They know how to get weapons, and that makes them scarily effective.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Phil Mudd, one thought out there is that ISIS is stepping up its terror attacks outside of Iraq and Syria, because they themselves are being squeezed there, and they're doing this as a sort of last resort. Do you buy that?
MUDD: Yes, I'd buy that absolutely. A piece of this is they want to say -- they want to create a fight between Islam and the west. But there is a smaller piece of this. The targets they've hit, Russia, Iranian surrogates, western Europe and now threatening in videos the United States, this is not by accident. Those are the same entities that are bringing pain to them in Iraq and Syria.
This is about lashing out. It's not just about them going on the offensive.
BLITZER: The Iranian surrogates, the Shia and Hezbollah...
MUDD: That's right.
BLITZER: ... in Lebanon. There were two suicide bombings, killing more than 40 people in Beirut last week.
MUDD: That's right.
BLITZER: Guys, don't go too far away. We have much more on the breaking news, including Vladimir Putin now blaming a terrorist bomb for the downing of that Russian -- Russian passenger plane over Sinai, killing all 224 people on board. He is now vowing revenge. How closely will he work with the U.S.-led coalition in fighting ISIS?
[18:48:21] BLITZER: Breaking news: Russia now conducting more waves of airstrikes on targets in Syria after confirming it was a bomb that brought down that Russian jet, killing 224 people over Sinai. President Vladimir Putin vowing to find and punish those responsible.
Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is working the story for us.
Elise, Putin is now indicating a new willingness to work with western countries to fight ISIS.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And, you know, President Obama has been under fire for what critics called a lackluster strategy against ISIS. Enter Russian President Vladimir Putin who today joined the fight and is giving momentum to a new global coalition to fight ISIS in Syria and beyond.
LABOTT (voice-over): Today, Russian bombers pounded ISIS targets in Syria, pairing airstrikes with 34 cruise missiles launched at ISIS fighters. In all, 127 strikes of retaliation for the ISIS downing of a Russian commercial jet.
And President Putin promised this was just the beginning.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will search wherever they are hiding. We will find them any spot on the planet and we will punish them.
LABOTT: After the crash, Putin was slow to concede terrorism. But since the deadly attacks in Paris, the Russian leader called for the world to unite, and ordered his navy to aid a French naval force streaming towards Syria.
Today, the Pentagon welcomed the move but was cautious.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll wait to see what the Russians do next.
Amid fears ISIS is sending more fighters to kill Westerners, French President Hollande urged the U.S. and Russia, until now at odds over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to, quote, "unify our strength against the group."
[18:50:08] FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): We need a union of all who can find this terrorist army in a single coalition.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll do waht's required to keep the American people safe.
LABOTT: On Monday, President Obama found himself on the defensive, calling the Paris attacks the worst France has faced since World War II, a setback in the fight against ISIS. Facing questions about his resolve, the president called for patience.
OBAMA: We are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution.
LABOTT: Obama rejected growing calls for a ground invasion of Syria, warning local troops supported by U.S. airstrikes are a better option than a costly and open-ended U.S. occupation. Military experts warn the current air campaign may dent ISIS, but without ground troops, it will never defeat it.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You can fly things over the ground, you can pulverize the ground, you can make that ground a horrible place to be, but until you put forces on the ground, you don't own it and you can't change the conditions on the ground.
(END VIDEOTAPE) LABOTT: And Putin's latest commitments to France, coupled with
plan visits by President Hollande to Moscow and Washington next week suggest a dramatic shift in the coalition strategy against ISIS.
Wolf, Russia now seen as indispensible in defeating the group.
BLITZER: Let's see if this coalition actually gets together and works. Thanks very much, Elise, for that report.
More of breaking news right after a quick break.
[18:56:09] BLITZER: CNN's coverage of the breaking news in the investigation of the Paris terror attacks will continue in a moment. But there is another story which are following involving
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson. His campaign and Dr. Carson are pushing back tonight against a "New York Times" report questioning his understanding of foreign policy.
A key article from "The New York Times", a key quote from "The New York Times" article, "Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East", Dwayne Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security, said in an interview. He also said that Dr. Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy "so we can make him smart."
The Carson campaign says of Clarridge, "He is coming to the end of a long career of serving our country. He is clearly not one of Dr. Carson's top advisors. For 'The New York Times' to take advantage of an elderly gentleman and use him as their foil in this story is an affront to good journalistic practices." That statement from the Carson campaign.
Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is with me.
Gloria, you had a chance to speak to Armstrong Williams, one of Dr. Carson's good friends and adviser. What did he say to you?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and before we get to that, Dr. Carson was just minutes ago on public television. He, himself, distanced himself from Mr. Clarridge. He said, "He is not my advisor." And Mr. Williams did the same. He pointed out that Clarridge has only met with Carson twice and talked to him on the phone four times. He said Clarridge has no idea that Dr. Carson has 14 or 15 other advisors and that he spends about, according to Armstrong Williams, 40 percent of his time on foreign policy.
In the PBS interview, though, just a few minutes ago, the candidate himself admitted he does have a learning curve when it comes to foreign policy. I think we've seen that in presidential debates and recently as last Sunday when he was pressed by Chris Wallace of FOX News to name an ally he would consult immediately and first as part of a coalition to fight ISIS. He didn't give a name. BLITZER: Clearly in the aftermath of what's going on now, the
Paris attacks, the ISIS assaults, national security is emerging as a key issue for all these candidates.
BLITZER: Sure. Terrorism, who would be best equipped to handle ISIS for example. And the question is, as American public looks at someone now they want to elect, the commander in chief question is key. Do you want somebody with a steep learning curve? Do you want somebody who has been there before?
I mean, this is going to be key for Hillary Clinton. She is going to make the case she has experience to be commander in chief. Republicans are going to say, yes, but you didn't do well when you were secretary of state.
And so, someone like Carson who is a neurosurgeon, has no government experience, has a high bar here when it comes to foreign policy. No doubt about it.
BLITZER: Does it open the door potentially for Marco Rubio who does know a lot about foreign policy, who's on the foreign relations committee?
BORGER: He does. He is a single-term senator on the Foreign Relations Committee. But he's been talking about his foreign policy credentials from early on. And that will serve him well as you head into the next debate, obviously.
But this story this evening was something that Dr. Carson clearly didn't want because he's already under assault for his lack of foreign policy credentials.
BLITZER: This is going to obviously be a huge issue.
BORGER: It will.
BLITZER: Because one of these individuals wants to be, is going to be potentially on the Democratic and Republican side, the next commander in chief of the United States. The American people want to make sure that commander in chief is up to the job protecting all of the American people.
All right, Gloria, thanks very, very much.
BLITZER: Remember, you can follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitroom.
Please be sure to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. Thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
CNN's special coverage of the Paris attacks continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".