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TSA under Fire for Long Security Lines; Potential Involvement of Saudi Citizens in 9/11 Attacks; Interview with Rep. Adam Schiff; Did ISIS Declare State of Emergency is Raqqa; Confronting a Convicted Jihadi Recruiter in Belgium; U.S. Kills Key Terror Commander in Syria. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired May 13, 2016 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[13:30:00] JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: So we are, in fact, bringing on more so and investing in more K-9s, more technology. We are working with Congress to make sure the TSA has the funding it needs to build back the TSA workforce.
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TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One thing that will really jump out from you in the 10-point plan is if you're a passenger, one of the things is they work with the airlines to further reduce the size and number of carry-on bags you can bring on the plane. It's not clear how reducing the load there is not going to increase the load screening in other bags and certainly increase the cost to travelers out there.
But the bottom line for everything they say they're going to do and the confidence they say they have in it when asked, can passengers this summer expect to not have three hour waits for planes? The Homeland Security secretary said simply, I hope they won't -- Wolf?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Me, too. I hope they won't either.
Tom Foreman, thank you.
Coming up, new calls for the release of some classified documents that may show as many as six people in the United States and lower-level Saudi government officials may have supported the 9/11 hijackers. New details coming up next.
[13:35:37] BLITZER: September 11th was the deadliest terror attack on soil and, 15 years later, there's still many questions surrounding who may have helped those 19 al Qaeda terrorists in the weeks and months leading up to the attacks.
As our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, tells us, 28 classified pages of a congressional investigatory report may hold some answers.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an allegation that has lingered almost since the moment the towers fell, that Saudi Arabia was somehow tied to the 9/11 attacks.
Now speaking to CNN by telephone, former 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman says the classified 28 pages of a congressional report into 9/11 contain evidence that as many as six Saudi individuals supported al Qaeda in the run-up to the attacks. Those individuals, he says, worked for the Saudi embassy in the U.S., Saudi charities, and a government-funded mosque in California.
Lehman makes clear the 28 pages, mostly FBI summary reports, contain no smoking gun, and like the 9/11 Commission, concluded he doesn't believe the Saudi government or any senior officials supported or were aware of the 9/11 plots.
SCIUTTO: However, Lehman says evidence of lower-level Saudi involvement was never sufficiently investigated and should now be, quote, "vigorously pursued."
Other commission members, including former federal prosecutor, Richard Ben-Veniste, are echoing Lehman's call.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: We would not be so arrogant as to think that we with our limited time and resources have investigated every single aspect that there is to look at in the 9/11 disaster.
SCIUTTO: When it completed its investigation in 2004, the 9/11 Commission concluded it found, quote, "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded al Qaeda."
Saudi leaders have repeatedly cited that conclusion as eliminating the possibility of any official Saudi role.
PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL, FORMER SAUDI INTELLIGENCE CHIEF: If you look at the commission report, it deals specifically with Saudi Arabia's role that there was not a Saudi role nor any official role in this situation.
SCIUTTO: Some 9/11 Commission members do not dispute that defense.
BEN-VENISTE: There's a substantial jump to suggest that somebody who had a job in a consulate is a representative of the Saudi government.
SCIUTTO: However, contentions the report left open the possibility lower-level officials or employees may have played some role even if they were not instructed by Saudi leadership. And it is that lingering question he hopes the 28 pages' release and further investigation will answer once and for all. "The 9/11 investigation was terminated," he told CNN, "before all the
relevant leads were able to be investigated."
(on camera): Lehman points to clever semantics in that 9/11 report conclusion saying the Saudi government, as an institution, or senior Saudi officials did not fund al Qaeda, that that left open the possibility lower-level Saudi officials did play a role, perhaps without the direction of the Saudi leadership.
To be clear, the Saudi government also supports releasing those 28 pages, the Saudi foreign minister saying exactly that last week in Geneva.
Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Let's discuss these developments with my next guest, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Congressman, thank you for coming in.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D), CALIFORNIA: You bet.
BLITZER: You read the 28 pages, still classified, right? What can you tell us about that without violating classified information?
SCHIFF: I think the best description I've heard of them is there's like a police report that have a lot of allegations and point to certainly things that look incriminating.
BLITZER: Against who?
SCHIFF: In the sense that there are connections that are portrayed potentially as a coincidence that there's a certain meeting in a restaurant that there are contacts with the embassy that I think --
BLITZER: By some of the hijackers?
[13:39:57] SCHIFF: By some of the hijackers. You read that and think, how likely is that to be a coincidence? The reality is that the 9/11 Commission that then went and investigated these allegations in the commission's work in the joint inquiry's work weren't able to essentially follow the trail to any high-ranking Saudi officials, but nonetheless, these pages, I believe, should be released. They can be redacted if there's concerns about sources and methods but let the American people see what's in them. Often, the speculation is worse than the contents. And sometimes when you release a document like that, as many years have gone by, it generates new information. People who read it are aware of connections that maybe the investigators weren't. So I think they should be released.
BLITZER: 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Bin Laden, of course, was a Saudi. If you read those pages, why doesn't the administration, for all of these 15 years, they've argued that there's sensitive information in dealing with sources and methods that would undermine U.S. national security, and that's why it's kept classified.
SCHIFF: I think it's a combination of reasons. Yes, in part. There's a need to protect sources and methods, but that can be done. You can redact the information so the sources are protected. Part of it I think is to avoid damage to the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
BLITZER: If the U.S. were to release those 28 pages, would it damage U.S./Saudi relations?
SCHIFF: There will be speculation about what's in the 28 pages, even when released and I think there will be lot of head scratching about how is this possible and people will certainly, many, lead to the conclusion that Saudi officials had somehow been involved and that has not been corroborated and I think the America people can be entrusted to draw their own conclusions and get the information to have that balanced with what the 9/11 Commission self did thereafter. So I don't frankly think that damaging potential relationship or embarrassment to that relationship is a good reason to withhold information the American people ought to know.
BLITZER: Six individuals apparently had contact with some of the 19 hijackers. I assume all of them got out of the United States shortly after 9/11. Is that right?
SCHIFF: I don't know exactly what the timetable would be. But I would imagine that probably none of them were still in the country.
BLITZER: They were all Saudi citizens?
SCHIFF: I believe. And I would have to go through what he was referring to. There were certainly several people referred to in the 28 pages that had contact with people who ended up being among the hijackers, and I would suspect they're all out of the country. I don't know that for a fact. It will be difficult, I think, to pursue new leads this long after the fact but nonetheless, you could have new information come to the fore and that's a good reason.
BLITZER: There are lawsuits now pending in which victims families, the 3,000 people killed, they want to sue Saudi Arabia in part. The administration is resisting that saying that's not appropriate. They have diplomatic immunity. Where do you stand on that?
SCHIFF: This is the much more difficult question in my view, that the release of the 28 pages ought to be easy. My question is, is there a way to draft this law? We'd like to see the 9/11 victims be able to pursue relief and compensation from anyone responsible. Is there a way we can draft this law that doesn't invite the U.S. to be sued around the world? You could easily perceive, for example, Iraqis who lost loved ones for going to war based on faulty intelligence. You could see us being sued by Afghans, by Syrians, and others. And so obviously, we have an interest in protecting our service members as well as our country from those kinds of suits and the question is, can this litigation be allowed to go forward without exposing us in return to a lot of litigation from around the world.
BLITZER: In a different matter, Raqqa, the ISIS capitol in Syria, U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Colonel Steve Warren, said today it looks like ISIS declared a state of emergency in Raqqa. What can you tell us about that situation?
SCHIFF: I think they're concerned in Raqqa as they see the territory they have around Raqqa shrinking, as they see military maneuvers undertaken by Kurdish and Arabic forces in the region, and they don't know what's coming or when. And, you know, they're under real financial pressure. We have, I think, attacked their oil infrastructure. We have attacked literally their holdings of cash so they're having some difficulty paying their fighters and their employees, effectively. Very lethal though and still don't see the light at the end of the tunnel and even as we see them hunkering down in Raqqa, we see the timeline for the re-conquering of Mosul being pushed off the coalition. So still a lot of hard work ahead.
BLITZER: Enormous work ahead.
Thanks very much, Congressman, for coming in.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
[13:44:54] BLITZER: Adam Schiff of California.
Coming up, a terror group's top commander, described by a prosecutor as the untraceable ghost, killed in Syria. Why no one is claiming responsibility, at least not yet. We're going live to Damascus for a full report.
BLITZER: In the last few years, Brussels is infamous for a recruiting ground for jihadi fighters. A mother is sharing her story about how her son became a militant who died fighting in Syria, and demanding to know why some of the convicted recruiters are now walking free.
CNN's Erin McLaughlin tracked down one of those men in this exclusive report.
[13:49:20] ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Photos from Salha Rufla's (ph) 18th birthday, a family trip to celebrate, one of his mother's happiest memories before he went to Syria.
SALHA BEN ALI, MOTHER OF SABE RUFLA (ph) (through translation): We don't know what's happened in Syria but we are sure what's happened with us when he was here.
MCLAUGHLIN: Eight months after that trip, she says her son became radicalized. He sent her a Facebook message to let her know he was in Syria. Then came a chilling phone call.
BEN ALI (through translation): The Syrian guy said, "Congratulations, your son just died as a martyr." Then he hung up. It was horrible.
MCLAUGHLIN: Ben Ali said her son was the happiest of her children. She didn't know the most dangerous jihadist recruitment network in Belgium had approached her son.
The network is made up of veteran jihadis and recruiters.
MCLAUGHLIN: Some would go on to carry out the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Authorities have prosecuted more than 60 recruiters and foreign fighters, but one of them was Rufla. Because there's no proof of death, Rufla was still convicted. His recruiters were also declared guilty. As you see here, the judge allowed them to walk free pending their appeal.
CNN tracked down one of the recruiters to his home address.
(on camera): This is the neighborhood of one of the recruiters convicted alongside Rufla. Rufla's mother says her son called him from Syria pleading. Rufla wanted to come home. The recruiter said no. We're here to ask him why.
(voice-over): We ring the doorbell. His mother answers. She screams at us to leave her alone.
As we walk away, the recruiter appears and confronts us. His words are not welcoming. He refuses to talk to us on camera.
Belgian authorities tell CNN they have not notified residents that a convicted jihadist recruiter is living in their midst.
We saw a teenaged boy entering the same apartment building.
The president of Brussels tribunal says in Belgium it's not unusual for a criminal to go free while they're waiting for appeal if they're not considered a flight risk.
(on camera): How is it a convicted member of a terrorist organization sentenced to seven years in prison is allowed to walk free after his trial?
LUC HENNART, BRUSSELS TRIBUNAL PRESIDENT (through translation): The judge has said this man's behavior was good throughout the trial and this decision of the judge needs to be respected.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): For Rufla's mother, the fact that her son's recruiters are free while he's dead too is much. She says it's as if he's died twice.
BEN ALI (through translation): I don't really believe in human justice. But in God justice. And he will pay. Not here. But by God. And I just want to tell him that my son didn't have a second chance, like him.
MCLAUGHLIN: Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Brussels. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: Up next, a mysterious terror leader killed in Syria. New details coming out on the man some called a ghost. Stay with us.
[13:56:52] BLITZER: A key Hezbollah commander designated a terrorist by the U.S. government is killed in Syria. Mustafa Badreddine, often referred to as the untraceable ghost, he was suspect in the murder of the Lebanese prime minister nearly two dozen other people back in 2005. A funeral procession for Badreddine was held in Beirut this morning.
Fred Pleitgen is in Damascus, Syria, on the phone for us.
Fred, White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, told reporters here in Washington, no U.S. coalition forces or planes were in the area where this Hezbollah commander was killed. Who was he? And do we know who killed him?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's the big question of who killed him. And interesting because there's been conflicting information that came through from Hezbollah about this today. Originally, they said it was the Israeli air force that a targeted him and killed in an airstrike. However, then Hezbollah retracted that statement and only gave a statement saying he died, quote, "fighting against terrorists," which obviously means against the opposition here.
Now, at this point in time, it is unclear whether or not he was killed in an airstrike or killed by some sort of surface-to-surface rocket missile or a mortar. Absolutely unclear at this point in time.
But, Wolf, what is clear is that he was one of the key recruiters here for Hezbollah fighters in Syria. You have mentioned he is an operative for decades already but he played a key role here for Hezbollah in Syria, played a big logistical role of getting Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon in here to Syria. And apparently he made a statement just a little while ago saying he never wanted to return to Lebanon unless it was victorious after the war on the part of Bashar al Assad or draped in a flag as a martyr. Of course, from today, we know that's what happened. As you said he was brought home, a funeral procession and he was killed here in Syria -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Like the Russians, the Iranians, Hezbollah is a big supporter of the al Assad regime in Damascus and they have a lot of enemies out there, don't they?
PLEITGEN: They certainly do. You're absolutely right. Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, there's groups that oppose them, and quite frankly, especially around that area around the Damascus airport. It's also the area where there's a very prominent Shia shrine. Hezbollah is a Shia organization. We have seen some attacks on that in the past, some car bombings on that in the past. And quite frankly, looking at the past couple of weeks, Wolf, the attrition rate for Hezbollah and also for the Iranians is quite high. You look back at last year and near a town in the north of Syria, you had the largest loss of life for the Iranians ever since they have acknowledged they have fighters on the ground here. Some 13 Iranians killed there. So you're absolutely right, they have a lot of enemies, certainly Israelis one of them, but also, of course, very much of the groups opposed to Bashar al Assad -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen in Damascus. Thank you.
That's it for me.
The news continues next right here on CNN.