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41 Killed, 239 Injured in Istanbul Airport Terror Attack; CIA Chief: ISIS May Try Similar Attacks in U.S.; Heightened Security at U.S. Airports. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 29, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The big question AT THIS HOUR, is the attack the work of ISIS? So far, officials say 41 people are dead, 239 were injured in these coordinated attacks.

Let's begin with senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, at the airport in Istanbul.

Nima, what is the very latest?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, authorities are working on firming up the details of the time line of the attack. Local media are now reporting that it was actually the fact that one of the men was wearing a coat that triggered their suspicions. You remember, Kate, in Brussels, you remember the man with the white coat who was shown in CCTV footage. Very, very similar. Police officers, local media reporting began following the man. And that's when the man acting suspiciously opened fire and the first bomb was detonated not too far from where I'm standing here at the drop-off point just before 10:00 p.m. yesterday evening. It's from there, in that confusion, that the second attacker opened fire and ran into that ground floor level. That's the CCTV footage that we've been showing where that extraordinarily brave police officer flung himself on top of the attacker.

The other line of investigation, well, the other two lines of investigations that are crucial to authorities right now, one is pertaining to the broader network that supported them, similarly to Brussels, and this is chillingly reminiscent of Brussels in so many of these details, Kate. A taxi driver dropped them off. Who is he? Where is here? What more can he tell them? This is what authorities are trying to ascertain as we speak.

And they're also trying to ascertain the identities of the attackers. A senior Turkish official has told us the attacker's bodies are so badly dismembered that they are only really working with the lower halves right now. But they're working assumption, the indication so far, that these are foreigners and that, of course, opens up this whole world of concern about the ability of foreign jihadis to be able to infiltrate into Turkey, especially given the ratcheted up security here -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Nima, you've been inside the airport. It is truly extraordinary. They have the airport up and running already in the aftermath. What are you seeing inside the airport? What are you hearing from people?

ELBAGIR: Well, it is just amazingly eerie to see all the ramifications, all the things that you would expect to see inside a functioning first-world airport. There are coffee shops. There's a Starbucks people are sitting at waiting for their flights. But then you, suddenly, you look up and there are ceiling tiles that have been blown apart by the blast. And at our feet around us, there are still shards of glass. Some of those panes have been swapped out for boards. It really shows how used to this the Turks have become. They've been reeling from these kind of attacks and this ability to hold everything back together, to grasp back normality is something that, unfortunately, Turkey is becoming all too good at -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Brutal reality in that airport right in front of you.

Nima, thank you so much. Really appreciate it, Nima, all over it for us this morning.

So as we've mentioned, there's been no claim of responsibility. ISIS has not claimed responsibility. The head of the CIA seems to think it's highly likely. John Brennan telling Yahoo! News this in an interview overnight. In part, he said, "I'd be surprised if Daesh is not trying to carry out that kind attack in the United States." Daesh is another term for ISIS.

The White House also expressing concern about the terror group's ability to strike.

CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is following kind of the U.S. angle from Washington for us right now.

Evan, what are U.S. officials telling you? What's their involvement in the investigation? What are you hearing right now?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, they've offered the assistance to the Turks and we'll see whether or not the Turks asked for it or accept it. The CIA's been warning about just these types of attacks. We don't know which terrorist group is responsible for it. The immediate suspicion falls on ISIS. U.S. intelligence officials have been warning that as ISIS loses some of its territory in Iraq and Syria, we can expect cells to carry out attacks just like this one.

We're coming up on the 4th of July weekend, the final week of the holy week of Ramadan, and groups like ISIS and al Qaeda have been calling on their supporters to launch attacks. And the Homeland Security Department says they don't know of any known credible threats to the U.S. But the challenge remains for the U.S. security apparatus that an attack like this one in Istanbul, highly secure airport, where the screening is done outside of the terminal, is still incredibly difficult to prevent -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: A lot more to learn. A lot more involvement probably coming from the U.S. with its ally overseas.

Evan, thank you very much. Evan's watching it, the U.S. angle in Washington.

Let's talk more about this, what folks are saying where the investigation stands. Michael Balboni is here with me, former New York State Homeland Security adviser; and Bob Baer with us as well, CNN intelligence and security analyst, and former CIA operative.

[11:05:17] Gentleman, thank you so much for joining me.

Unfortunately, we're talking about yet another terror attack, yet another international airport that is known for its high security, being attacked.

Bob, does it surprise you that ISIS has not claimed responsibility?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE & SECURITY ANALYST: No, Kate, it hasn't. You know, they've attacked Turkey before several times. They haven't claimed responsibility. Sometimes they take weeks to do it. They made an attack on Jordan against a border post. They waited an entire week. They may never claim it. But it certainly -- I agree with Brennan -- has all the hallmarks of an ISIS attack. I think that's going to be our best guess until they can identify who those people are, and they may never.

BOLDUAN: So, Michael, this is still less than 24 hours our. The Turkish prime minister said they believe there were no security lapses at the airport. Do you agree? Is it too quick to jump to that conclusion? Yes, there is a lot of video in and around the airport, amazingly, of this attack. What's your take?

MICHAEL BALBONI, SENIOR FELLOW, HOMELAND SECURITY POLICY INSTITUTE & FORMER NEW YORK STATE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR: As we saw in Brussels and operating airport environment in the world, security begins really at the point where you screen the passengers. And of course, the air side of the facility, that is where all the planes are kept. Everything beyond that, everything at the curb line, as it were, you know, the only airport in the world that really does -- that pushes out the borders is in Israel, the Ben Guerin Airport. They will talk to you way before you get on to the property of the airport. That's so difficult to do in this environment in the United States. What they've demonstrated is they're watching. They're trying to take an opportunity. They knew when the flights were coming in. Therefore, you're out there and you don't have that kind of security measure right at that curb line.

BOLDUAN: In the arrivals hall, which is different, as we've seen, these departures hall, where people are gathering is where we've seen these attacks, these attempts before.

Bob, it was -- maybe it was a coincidence but the U.S. embassy in Ankara issued a travel warning for the country on Monday, warning Americans of an increased threat there. Does that tell you something? Does that tell you the U.S. -- there was more chatter, as we hear quite often, or do you think it's just the state of play? This is the eighth suicide attack this year in Turkey. BAER: Kate, I think it was probably something specific, as you said,

chatter, but these conversations are so unclear. They're just talking about now's the time, we have to go, things like that. There's nothing you can do to act on it. It's not actionable intelligence. Had there been intelligence about that airport, the United States would have released it to protect Americans.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

And as Nima pointed out, Michael, there's shocking similarities to the attack in Brussels. They believe the attackers, they arrived via taxi. Three people kind of try to get into the airport. One of them detonated in a parking lot connected to the airport. What does that tell you? What should we learn from it? Or does that tell you they're learning from each other?

BALBONI: They're learning from each other, but I think there was one distinction that should be focused on in terms of the investigation between Brussels and this attack. The men arrived with semiautomatic weapons. So in Brussels, they had luggage. They looked like passengers. Here, they got in a taxicab with weapons and got out of the cab with weapons. So --

BOLDUAN: And it's the summer and one of them was wearing a coat and that's what triggered suspicion.

BALBONI: Right. So that's what you look for. You look for behavior patterns. You look for what people are doing that's out of the ordinary. The fact they got into the cab and got out with a weapon, that should -- you don't bring a weapon to an airport. So finding that taxicab driver, finding out what he knew, finding out who he knew, what he knew, that's going to be really essential to this initial investigation.

BOLDUAN: As we've said, we'll say over and over, no one has claimed responsibility, Bob, but if it has the hallmarks of ISIS, as folks have been saying, talk to me about the relationship between the military actions on the ground in Iraq and Syria to take on ISIS and these individual attacks on soft targets elsewhere. Is there a relationship?

BAER: Like hitting a bee's nest. You can knock it down but these people are going to lash out. These are, in a sense, acts of desperation. The Turks are going to come after them by air, maybe by ground at this point. But these people are desperate. They're desperate to say, we're still here. Yes, we lost Fallujah. We're losing ground in Syria. But we will not give up. This is a very, very committed movement. And all of its followers have submitted to the rules and are ready to sacrifice their lives, total sacrifice. We will see more of these attacks. I guarantee you.

[11:10:09] BOLDUAN: Michael, as we also heard from Nima, find it interesting that the working suspicious, that's how she described it, is these were foreigners. How did they get -- reach that conclusion, do you think, at this point? What do you think -- they're not releasing quite yet, because they -- as we've heard, they're only working with the bottom half of the attackers.

BALBONI: Right. A lot of it is clothing.


BALBONI: Clothing. You try to take a look at clues.

The other point we should focus on is Turkey has had this history, as you've been reporting, of these types of attacks. They've really taken security very seriously. When the security ministry says, we're one of the most secure airports in the world, he means it because they've had, unfortunately, that experience. The question becomes, what about other airports where they've never had issues like this. What is going to be their burden, their challenge to try to ramp up and try to stop these attacks before they happen, should they be selected?

BOLDUAN: The fact of the matter is, no matter how far you push the perimeter, there's still a perimeter.

BALBONI: Right. Absolutely, correct. That's very true.

BOLDUAN: At some point. That is the unfortunate reality.

Gentleman, thank you very much.

There's a lot more to learn and a lot more we will be discussing throughout the hour. Really appreciate it.

So this airport has checkpoints -- we're talking about the security, as Michael was pointing out. This airport has checkpoints before entering the terminal building. Analysts say the attackers maybe exploited the relatively lighter security at the entrance to the arrivals hall. This is an interesting part. This is where the attackers went in.

For more on the security situation right now, let's bring in CNN's Alexandria Field outside the airport now.

Alexandra, what are you seeing there today? Obviously, in the aftermath, there is, of course, increased security. What does it look like today?

ALEXANDRIA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the amazing thing is they got this airport open so quickly. It's really a steady stream of traffic, taxicabs and pedestrian cars that have been going past this building behind me and pulling up where they can drop off or pick up passengers. We're talking about something that's happening really just hours, still within a day of this coordinated and deadly attack.

So here's what's happening. These cars pull up. People are let out. There is security in place, just as there was a day ago at this time and two days ago before these attacks were unleashed in such a hideous way here. But people are able to get into that arrivals hall. They walk through a metal detector. I'm being told by one of my producers, who was just at the building, it seems that everyone is being screened as they walk into the building. Again, that is normal standard protocol here.

But you have to believe that it is stepped up and there's a higher intensity, if you will, to that effort today. Once you're inside the terminal, you will see armed police officers who are patrolling. Same goes for outside the terminal. Again, that isn't necessarily different from what you would see on any other day but, of course, you have to believe these are stepped up efforts and everyone is being particularly diligent with this effort.

But look, the fact of the matter is, is that state security signed off on the readiness, the ability to reopen this airport so quickly in the aftermath of the attack. And, Kate, I was really struck when I landed here hours after the attack. One of first flights able to land after the airport reopened. A lot of the terminal was empty. The passengers cleared out during the initial evacuation. But as some of us passengers deplaned and got into the terminal, it was really surprising to see how much clean-up work frankly had been done. That the site of these blasts had been cordoned off, investigators had been in, and the repair work was already under way, all with the intent of getting the airport back up and running, which it's doing right now -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's amazing, not even 24 hours out.

Alex, great to see you. Thank you.

So security was tight. That's what we keep hearing. So how were the terrorists able to carry out this coordinated attack? What more can we learn from the videos coming out? How vulnerable are airports in the United States who has very strict security as well? We'll discuss that ahead.

Donald Trump, his response to the attacks in Istanbul, he says waterboarding is peanuts compared to what terrorists have done in the past. In his words, "We better get tough or we won't have a country left."


DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: They said what do you think about waterboarding. I said, I like it a lot, I don't think it's tough enough.


TRUMP: You have to fight fire with fire.



[11:18:24] BOLDUAN: If you're flying today, you could see the ripple effects of the attack in Turkey. U.S. officials are ramping up security across the U.S. Already today, an unattended bag at New York's JFK brought things to a halt for a while. The bomb squad was brought out and forced evacuations. That situation has been given the all clear. But what is the state of security at airports in the aftermath?

Let's bring in CNN aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

Rene, what are you hearing from government officials? What are we going to see? What aren't we going to see? But what are they doing at airports today in the aftermath?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Kate, you mentioned that situation at JFK, that unattended bag. It speaks to how jittery nerves are. Again, we're talking about, for the second time in a matter of months, terrorists have targeted that soft area of an airport. Now, the explosions in Turkey really a sobering reminder for many officials here in the U.S. of the limitations and vulnerabilities when it comes to security. That goes for any airport. And as a result, we're seeing some U.S. airports saying they have stepped up security. We know in New York and New Jersey, they've ramped up their police presence. They say officers are equipped with tactical weapons. And equipment at airports like Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark Liberty Airport, also Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, world's busiest airport, it says it has increased the visible presence of law enforcement.

The question today is, is that enough? Should the security checkpoint be the first line of defense, so to speak, or should the security line be extended even further. That is a conversation that's being had. But I spoke with one national security analyst who said there will always be a choke point, no matter how far you push the security line back -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: We also have the balance of getting people through, getting people on planes, how long the security lines are. We know there's already been problems at airports with hours-long security at TSA because of shortages of personnel. How do you balance all of that? That's part of the equation.

Rene, great to see you.


BOLDUAN: Oh, go ahead.

[11:20:34] BOLDUAN: It is. Many people are concerned when we saw all of those long lines at the airports across the country that that softens the target more. Because now you have a situation where you had so many people jam packed into an area that could be enticing to terrorists who would like to strike an airport.

BOLDUAN: Rene, thanks so much. An important point.

Let's get more now from Juliette Kayyem, CNN national security analyst and former assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, also the author of "Security Mom."

Juliette, great to see you. Thank you for being here.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks, Kate. BOLDUAN: I've been talking about it with a couple people this morning. I think a lot of folks are surprised the airport is already back up and running. Putting up boards against walls, against the windows that were shattered as people are making it into the airport heading towards their gates. Do you think that's a smart move?

KAYYEM: Oh, absolutely. I think it's a fantastic move. Here's why. I mean, one, it's a necessary move. You can't just close down an entire airport like this, especially one as large as the one in Istanbul. The other is, you know, given that there is no specific threat against this airport, you know, what are you going to do otherwise? It's not like in three or four days you're going to know everything is fine. I think it's a great statement by Istanbul to get this airport back up and running, and a statement to the world that, you know, Istanbul will not be defeated.

BOLDUAN: We've learned -- what you've learned of the attack so far, a lot more needs to be known. More details are coming out every hour. Do you think there was a security lapse?

KAYYEM: It's a great question. So I'm reserving judgment. The questions I have are this, given that we know the layered security at that airport, which also involved U.S. sort of investment because they are one of these airports that have direct flights to the United States, so we have some security over the airports and airplanes. I am very interested in sort of how they -- how the terrorists were able to get through that layered security, through the roaming police officers and others. I'm not saying it's right or wrong. I'm just saying these are questions you want to ask so other airports can learn what they do better.

BOLDUAN: Turkey's president said this after the attack, said that the bombs that exploded in Istanbul could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world. It's scary, but maybe true realization. I mean, is anyone doing it better?

KAYYEM: So there's -- everyone says about Israel -- look, Israel is a population of six million with one major airport. It doesn't have the breadth and scope of these major airports like Istanbul --

BOLDUAN: Right. Is that scalable --


KAYYEM: -- Paris and L.A. It's just not scalable.

Let me get everyone's head -- you know, everyone focused on this. There's no such thing as a perfectly secure airport, period. It is open to the public because that's who it serves. And so this idea you can make an airport hard is just a ridiculous notion, whether you put the security outside the door or 10 miles away. The way we need to think about it is, how do you lower the risk, right, increase the defenses, engage the public in their own security, so that you can minimize the vulnerabilities. But there's no airport that, you know, can function without sort of stopping the flow of people and goods and all sorts of things that we have come to anticipate in the 21st century that is going to get the vulnerability to zero. So we need to start thinking about reducing the risk. And I don't mean that as fatalistic. It should be something we embrace and begin to adapt to the new normal.

BOLDUAN: It was a startling statement coming out from the CIA director, John Brennan, overnight. He told Yahoo! News -- he said this -- and I want to get your take -- "I'd be surprised if Daesh, ISIS, is not trying to carry out that kind of attack in the United States." As you said just a moment ago, you don't want to be fatalistic about the reality of the situation, Julia. That's the CIA director. What should folks take from that?

[11:25:07] KAYYEM: I think we have to anticipate ISIS' number one and primary target will be a major attack from the United States directed by them. So compare that with Orlando, which it looks like from the investigation so far that was ISIS inspired. So you want the CIA director to have that assumption, right, because then he can work with that focus. He doesn't want to let his guard down, the intelligence agencies' guard down. But we are different from Europe. Our oceans very much protect us. We have, despite all of its flaws, rigorous reviews of who's coming in. I'm not saying it's perfect but we are better off in this regard than, say, a place like Turkey or even Europe now with its open borders. So I'm not surprised by that. I don't think he meant it as fatalistic. I think he meant like that's what you want the CIA director to be thinking.

BOLDUAN: A lot to learn from it. Juliette, a lot to learn on exactly what happened, why, and who's behind it as well as we watch for new developments every moment coming in on this attack.

Thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us -- of course -- there's no claim of responsibility but U.S. officials say at the moment all signs point to ISIS. Up next, how the attack in Turkey unfolded. How terrorists were able to detonate suicide vests at one of the busiest airports in the world. One witness said this, "It was like hell," as terrified travelers hid behind pillars amid gunshots and the explosions. Ahead, survivors of the attack speak out.