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More Information on Terror Threats; San Bernardino Shooters Used Encrypted Messages; Paris Terrorists Used Encrypted Applications; No New Trial Date Set in Officer Porter Case. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 17, 2015 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": And thank you so much for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin, here in New York. Let's go to Washington and Jim Sciutto filling in for Tapper. "The Lead" starts now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN, WASHINGTON: Thank you, Brooke Baldwin. The Commander in Chief tries again to calm a jittery nation. "The Lead" starts right now.

After San Bernardino, with fear of lone wolves rising, President Obama goes to mission control for hunting terrorists. He tells Americans to have a happy holiday season, but keep your eyes open. Is this the battle for second place? Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio take their fight to the campaign trail as Trump gets an unexpected, perhaps unwanted endorsement, from Russia with love. Plus, maybe it's not all bad luck after all. A provocative new study finds that 90 percent of cancer could be caused by our lifestyles and our environment. So do genetics play any role?

Welcome to "The Lead." I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Jake Tapper. We begin today with our national lead, President Obama visiting the National Counterterrorism Center for the first time in six years, trying to reassure nervous Americans. He also highlighted the steps that U.S. authorities are taking to protect the homeland after the deadly terror carnage just two weeks ago in California, and as millions prepare to travel during the upcoming holiday season.

Moments from now prosecutors are expected to file the first charges in connection with the San Bernardino terror attack, the deadliest on U.S. soil since 9-11. Let's get right to CNN Senior White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, listening to the President today, first of all, he made clear there is no current credible threat against the U.S. homeland. His message seemed to be largely one of reassurance, didn't it?

JIM ACOSTA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Absolutely, Jim, and with the holiday season here, President Obama received his usual end of the year update from his top counter-terrorism officials on security threats facing the U.S. homeland. But with this year being anything but usual, the President traveled to one of the nation's intelligence nerve centers to find out if Americans are truly safe. It was one more attempted show of strength from President Obama, as he vowed to keep the nation safe from ISIS terrorists and their so-called lone wolf followers during the holidays.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Of course, when terrorists pull off a despicable act like what happened in San Bernardino, it tears at our hearts. But it also stiffens our resolve.

ACOSTA: After a rare briefing at the National Counterterrorism Center, the President said there was no current specific or credible threat to the U.S. homeland. With that intelligence in hand, he urged Americans to remain calm.

OBAMA: So anyone trying to harm Americans need to know, they need to know that we're strong, and that we're resilient. That we will not be terrorized.

ACOSTA: Under discussion at the President's meeting the growing high- tech menace of terrorists concealing their intentions through social media and encrypted messaging on smart phones.

JOHN EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are concerned about the way that some terrorists are using encryption technology to make their plots harder to detect and disrupt.

ACOSTA: To calm a jittery public after the terror attack in San Bernardino, the White House has amped up the President's use of the bully pulpit, from an Oval Office address to a stop at the Pentagon. The administration has unveiled changes to the terror alert system, and a review of travel Visas to spouses entering the U.S. from abroad. The same opening apparently exploited by the California terrorists. But the President is still facing major doubts. A new Washington Post ABC News poll shows only 22 percent of Americans are confident that government can prevent a lone wolf attack. Republican Senator John McCain argued the President won't be able to stamp out the ISIS threat without taking out the terror army's capital of Raqqa in Syria.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: There is no plan by this administration to retake Raqqa. There is no strategy. And that is indeed shameful.

ACOSTA: Now President Obama will pay a visit to the families of the victims of the terror attack in San Bernardino tomorrow in route to his family vacation in Hawaii, an annual trip, Jim, that has been interrupted by threats to the homeland before. And he will have one more chance, Mr. Obama will, to address questions about a strategy for dealing with these terrorist threats when he holds a news conference, his annual end of the year news conference, here at the White House tomorrow. Jim.

SCIUTTO: And you'll be there. Jim Acosta, live at the White House for us today. Thanks very much.

In the San Bernardino terror investigation, federal officials are expected to charge Enrique Marquez, a close friend and former neighbor of Syed Rizwan Farook, who purchased those two AR-15 rifles used in the massacre. Just yesterday FBI Director James Comey revealed that Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, pledged their allegiance to jihad using private direct messages before they ever met in person. Let's go right to CNN Justice Correspondent, Pamela Brown, who's following the late-breaking details on this. So it's interesting, 'cause, 'cause Marquez had said to investigators that he and Farook aborted in effect a, a terror plot three years ago.


SCIUTTO: These current charges, though, just about the firearms or is there anything about support terrorism?

BROWN: That's right. We're being told that that at this point there they're just -- that these charges, they're just going to focus on the firearms. Remember, they have to corroborate his story and prove, show that they took concrete steps back in 2012 to launch this terrorist attack. So right now, Jim, we're being told that these charges are focused on those two firearms that were used in the attack. Right now the FBI and the prosecutor's office in Los Angeles not confirming that Enrique Marquez has been arrested. We are told he's expected to be arraigned as early as today in Riverside, California.

Federal authorities say the criminal charges expected against 24-year- old Enrique Marquez are centered on the two AR-15s used in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Marquez allegedly told FBI investigators he bought the two guns for Syed Farook, to help his friend from this Redlands neighborhood avoid scrutiny, a violation of federal and state law. But today no charge is expected over another Marquez claim, that in 2012 he Farook discussed launching a terrorist attack, but got spooked. But Marquez has told investigators he knew nothing about the San Bernardino attacks that Farook launched with his wife Tashfeen Malik. She came to the U.S. under a fiancee Visa in the summer of 2014 from Pakistan.

REP. TREY GOWDY, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: How did we miss the lady in San Bernardino?

BROWN: Today on Capitol Hill lawmakers pressed Obama administration officials for answers as to how Malik got into the U.S., missing signs Malik was already radicalized. The FBI says her thoughts about jihad were contained in private messages she shared with Farook.

UNIDENTIFIED FBI AGENT: There was nothing in the system that we use that would pick that up. There was no data that we would turn into actionable information to deny admission.

BROWN: Questions too about another concern, how well the U.S. government tracks the more than 9,000 people who had Visas revoked for possible ties to terrorism.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: How many of those people are still in the United States?


UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Doesn't that scare you?

BOND: Many of the people whose Visas are revoked were not in the United States when we revoked the Visas.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: How? You have no idea how many of those people are in the United States?

BROWN: And we're just getting word in, apparently the Sheriff out in Los Angeles denying that Enrico -- Enrique Marquez has been arrested. But, again, we expect, Jim, for that to happen shortly, and for him to face these charges surrounding the firearms used in the attack.

SCIUTTO: Yeh, really the only suspect who's alive related to these attacks. Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

A pressing question after San Bernardino is shouldn't the government have been able to spot what the terrorist couple was planning as they communicated online? That's why one of the words you heard most in the past several weeks has been encryption. And we heard it again today as CNN broke the news that the Paris terrorists, they used encrypted messaging apps to plot those coordinated massacres. CNN's Justice Reporter Evan Perez, he's in New York. Evan, how did investigators determine that the terrorists in Paris used these popular encryption apps?

EVAN PEREZ, JUSTICE REPORTER, CNN: Well, Jim, the apps in particular they're focused on are, are a couple that are very popular, especially in the Middle East, and that ISIS has encouraged its own supporters to use. That's WhatsApp and Telegram. And one of the things that investigators have been looking at is that there was really a scant electronic trail left by -- left behind by some of these, by these attackers. And the question that's been burning frankly on the minds of the investigators in Paris has been, how can eight people coordinate such an attack without really drawing the attention of French security services or the Belgian security services? And so what they've, what they've arrived at is that these apps, they were using them in the run up to the attack, and that could be why they, they had such a, such a little trail. Now we should make clear here that, that they have found some unencrypted communications. They've also found indications that the attackers used other means to try to hide their tracks. For instance, they changed SIM cards on some of their, on some of their cell phones, and we know that some of them snuck back in from Syria, back into the European Union, using fake passports and other travel documents. So there are plenty of ways that they used to try to obscure their tracks and to keep -- make sure that the surveillance apparatus of the, of both European countries and the Americans was not on them, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So this is the realization of the fear that you and I have heard from counterterrorism officials for weeks and months. The terrorist going dark. But it's interesting. I interviewed the Deputy Director of the NSA, and he hinted to me that there may be ways around encryption, may be ways for them to crack in, in effect, under some circumstances. Do we know what those could be? PEREZ: Well, you know what, encryption is -- not all encryption is

created equal. I mean there are some encrypted apps that are frankly a lot better in security and in protecting the privacy of, of their users. Certainly Telegram is viewed as one of the best. And so we know that the NSA, we know security services in China, elsewhere, in Russia, have been working for years to try to make sure they can break some of these encrypted apps, break into them. That is one of the top priorities of the NSA. We know that they've been successful in being able to get into some things. We don't know which ones, Jim. And so we do know, though, that WhatsApp and Telegram is the top of their list. Simply because, again, the terrorists are, are telling everyone this is what we're trying to use to make sure that nobody knows what we're up to. And, as Jim Comey just mentioned in New York just a couple days ago, during a visit here, he said that 109 messages that were exchanged between one of the attempted attackers in the Prophet Mohammed contest in Garland, Texas, and a known ISIS operative, Junaid Hussain, in Syria -- 109 of those messages the FBI has not been able to read them. And so that's something that's scary for these investigators because they'd love to know what else was being talked about.

SCIUTTO: Yeh, even if just some of them are encrypted you can't see them. That may be enough. Evan Perez, thanks very much.

PEREZ: Sure.

SCIUTTO: Does the U.S. have the tools needed to decode these encrypted communications? How can the private sector help as well? Two men who worked in the CIA and FBI are weighing in. They're going to join me here next.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to "The Lead." Making headlines in our world lead, new details on the Paris terror attacks. Sources telling CNN that French officials believe the ring leader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national, was on the Greek island of Leros in the weeks prior to that rampage. This, as we've now learned, the Paris terrorists communicated with each other using encrypted applications allowing them to conceal their plans from law enforcement. Joining me now is CNN intelligence and security analyst and former CIA operative, Bob Baer. Also here Shawn Henry, former FBI Executive Assistant Director and the President of the security firm CrowdStrike. Bob, Shawn, great to have you here. Tremendous amount of experience on this -- to talk to on these topics. Bob, I want to start with you. New ABC News Washington Post poll out this morning shows that 77 percent of those surveyed are not confident in the government's ability to stop a lone wolf attack. I wonder if that's sort of something we got to live with, right? Because are there really ways that you could stop true lone wolves who don't talk to anybody conceivably before they carry out an attack like this? I mean, is that the truly invisible plot for counterterror officials?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: I think that's their worst nightmare. They've been talking about this for years now that people they can't see that worries them the most. You look at San Bernardino and as far as -- you know what I've seen there's no red flags. This was not an intelligence failure. Those people didn't stand up and shout what they were going to do or put their plans on the Internet.

So, you know, this came out of nowhere. And it could happen again. People are inspired by these causes in the Middle East.

They hold us responsible. We're not responsible. But they hold us responsible for all the violence there. And all they need to do is pick up a gun. And as you know, they can pick up these things anywhere you want.


Shawn, as you're aware the visa program is under tremendous scrutiny in the wake of San Bernardino. Now, you look and our reporting is that those pro-jihadi statements and so on were in private messages, they were not public media postings before for instance, Malik, the wife, applied for her visa. So, there was nothing for the visa officers to look to as red flags. That said, there were communications, there were things that these guys do. They did talk to some people.

What in your view for someone who's investigated these kinds of attacks do you see missed red flags here, things that should have been seen in advance and could have helped prevent this attack?

SHAWN HENRY, FORMER EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: You know, I listened to what Bob said and I think he's absolutely right. I don't see any red flags with the intelligence that I've seen, people I've spoken with and the reporting, I haven't seen anything that is jumps up and says, you know, law enforcement or the FBI, the intel community should have seen this.

This is really you're looking for a needle in a stack of needles. And when you're talking about the amount of communication, hundreds of millions of e-mails a day that are floating around, millions and millions of tweets, the ability to look into all these communications and expect to find out the very specific ones that are going to say on this date at this time we're going to cause an attack, that's just not reality.

First of all, the communications aren't happening that way. Second of all, if it was with the volume out there, it's not going to happen.

Law enforcement the intelligence community need to continue to work with the private sector in the community. They need to continue to work. Human sources as well try to develop signals intelligence.

But I don't see any great failure here. And it just highlights the incredible challenge the community is facing to try and stop these types of attacks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Bob, as you know a lot of focus on use of passports and how these Paris attackers moved back and forth between Europe. There's now information now that the ringleader Abaaoud used a -- may have used a fake Syrian passport to get into Europe.

We know that the Europeans are trying to stop these flows of fighters from the battlefield back to Europe, some of them European nationals.

Is there something being missed there? Is there something that the Europeans aren't doing to stop this?

BAER: Well, not really. They're being -- it's a lot of refugees are coming into Europe. A lot of these passports are stolen, or they're created from blanks. There's no central government in Syria.

And a lot of those passport offices were overrun. They've got the stamps, they've got the holograms, they've got all the techniques and the abilities to make these passports.

So, there's not much you can do. And the ability -- you know, this is another fire hose of refugees that's very difficult to determine their real identities. I just don't know what you do about it. It's almost something we're going to have to live with as long as this crisis in the Middle East continues.

SCIUTTO: Shawn, your background in cyber security, in charge of cyber security in fact at the FBI, encrypted technology, encrypted communications such a focus. They talk about terrorists going dark. Is there a way to solve that problem? Or is this really, you know, just something that you're going to have to live with? That they can operate in dark spaces.

HENRY: Yes, well, make no mistake, Jim, the law enforcement, the intel community is absolutely lost visibility into certain areas where they have had visibility into terrorist organizations.

So, Director Comey understandably is adamant about the need to get that type of ability, to reacquire the intelligence capability, that said, you know, the American public has made demands for greater privacy on the heels of Snowden.

[16:20:03] And this is not just a U.S. issue but this is a global issue. I've seen much speaking conversation about this in Europe as well. Privacy, how do you protect yourself from the government?

I think the public is going to have to decide the balance between privacy and the balance between security. And there is going to have to be some step back in one area or another in order to secure a higher degree level in the other area.

This is a long-term problem that we're not going to see a short-term solution for, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. One more example of the new normal. Bob Baer, Shawn Henry, thanks to you both.

An announcement today in Baltimore adds complications in trials stemming from Freddie Gray's death. Why the case is in limbo now has so much weight on the trials for the other officers waiting their day in court. And the politics lead, this time it's not Donald trump picking the

fight. Now, it's Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio trading jabs. But can they steal the spotlight away from the front-runner and win over voters? That's all after this.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

A pending decision in the national lead could have a domino effect in Baltimore. The question: should there be a brand new trial for William Porter? He's one of six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. A jury deadlocked yesterday forcing a mistrial, which could really complicate the trials for the other cops accused in Gray's death.

[16:25:03] A verdict either way is key for many who want to see justice in Gray's death from back in April. Cell phone video show officers drag the 25-year-old into a police van. You see it there. His death a week later sparked days of protests.

Let's go to CNN's Jean Casarez. She is in Baltimore.

Jean, no trial date set today leaves William Porter's case in limbo, doesn't it?


Here's what we know: this morning, attorneys from both sides met at Judge Barry Williams' chamber. And before they went in, the defense attorney for William Porter said, yes, we're here for a group picture. They went inside for 30 minutes, they came out, both side didn't say a word and walked down the hall.

The public information officer has confirmed with us there is no retrial date for the defendant William Porter. And there may be more scheduling conferences in the days to come. What she meant by that we really don't know.

But as it stands now, the driver of the transport van, Oscar Goodson, his trial is set to begin on January 6th.

SCIUTTO: So explain how Porter's case is so important to the upcoming trials for the other officers. Because in a way they were kind of built on each other, weren't they?

CASAREZ: That's right. And that's why they wanted this one first. It's very, very dependent on Oscar Goodson's trial, the one coming up next, because William Porter was the police officer that actually talked to Freddie Gray. He said, "What's up?" And Freddie Gray either said, "help" or "help me up". William Porter helped him up to the bench and he said, "Do you need a medic?" Freddie Gray said, "Yes."

William Porter then told the wagon driver, he says he needs a medic. He also said, central booking isn't going to take him because they don't take inmates that need medical attention. He also told his sergeant, Alicia White, who is also a defendant in this case, he says he wants a medic.

Remember, this case is all built on knowledge. What did William Porter know? What did the other police officers know? And if they knew that he needed medical attention and they didn't call an ambulance and they didn't do anything else to help save his life, that forms the basis of the prosecutor's case.

And without this conviction, with a trial still pending for William Porter, how can they use that statement?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Key statement. He needs a medic.

Jean Casarez, thank you, in Baltimore.

The politics lead: two sons of Cuban immigrants with two very different views on immigration. Now, the debate between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz is getting even louder. But who's walking away winning the argument as both race for the Republican nomination? I'm going to ask the panel right after this break.