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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Pentagon: Second Chinese Spy Balloon Crossing Latin America, Other Spy Balloon Still On The Move Across The US, Heading East; Interview With Sen. Jon Tester (D-MO); Pentagon: Second Chinese Spy Balloon Crossing Latin America; Other Spy Balloon Still On The Move Across The U.S., Heading East; Cold Blast Hits Northeast; Potential For Record Lows; 25M Under Wind Chill Warnings Or Advisories; Wind Chill Tops Negative 100 Degrees On Mount Washington; Mercenary Groups Aids Russia's Gains In Eastern Ukraine; Ballistics Expert Testifies In Alex Murdaugh Murder Trial. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired February 03, 2023 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PRESTON HEMPHILL, THEN MEMPHIS POLICE OFFICER: I hope they stomp his ass.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: I remember hearing that as it happened and at that time we didn't know who said it, but it was Hemphill and he has now been fired.
As of tonight though, he is not among the police officers facing criminal charges at all or for second-degree murder.
Thanks for joining us. Anderson starts now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. We begin tonight with breaking news. The Pentagon now saying a second Chinese spy balloon is currently crossing Latin America. That's on top of the one now floating somewhere over this country, exact whereabouts unknown.
Something so unexpected to be what it is, where it is, that it left people asking questions like this.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What planet is that?
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COOPER: Actually, it's a good question. It's not Mars or Venus. The balloon is the size of three buses equipped with solar panels for power and surveillance equipment spotted yesterday crossing Montana including over ICBM sites. It drifted across Nebraska and then into the Midwest today, spotted as it made its way across Missouri, floating in about 60,000 feet apparently following the prevailing winds. Now in a moment, we'll take a look at where it could be heading next. Today, Chinas said it was "civilian airship," a weather research vehicle gone astray, and Secretary of State Blinken postponed his upcoming trip to Beijing.
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ANTONY BLINKEN, US SECRETARY OF STATE: Any country that has its airspace violated and this way, I think would respond similarly. And I can only imagine what the reaction would be in China if they were on the other end.
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COOPER: Meantime, The Pentagon which has been tracking the balloon and weighing whether or not to shoot it down is not ruling anything out.
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BRIG. GEN. PATRICK S. RYDER, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE PRESS SECRETARY: At this stage, what I can tell you is again, we're reviewing options. I'm not going to go into more specifics than that.
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COOPER: Now, a number of Republican lawmakers weighed in today, so did the former President and Vice President all demanding the balloon be shot down.
In a moment, where this balloon might be going. We'll also talk to Montana Senator Jon Tester who announced today that his Subcommittee will be holding hearings on this.
But first, CNN senior national security correspondent, Alex Marquardt with more on what are now both balloons. So what is the latest from the administration about both of these Chinese spy balloons?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we just learned moments ago from an on the record statement from The Pentagon that there is this second Chinese balloon that they say is transiting Latin America, they're not specifying which country.
They do assess that it is another Chinese balloon, but say that it is not on track to come up here to the United States. This does highlight what Pentagon has been saying that there have been several instances of these Chinese spy balloons over the past several years. And what's different here that the administration said today is that this one was caught on the eve of Secretary Blinken's trip to Beijing.
This was a trip that was long in the works. It was supposed to take place next week. Understandably, the US is quite frustrated. Blinken saying today that the trip could no longer be constructive. This undermines the purpose of the trip.
Here is a little bit more of what he had to say to his Chinese counterpart. Take a listen.
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BLINKEN: My call today with Director Wang Yi, I made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law. That it's an irresponsible act and that the PRC's has decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have.
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MARQUARDT: And Anderson, Biden's White House Press Secretary is saying that they back Blinken's decision to postpone the trip. They also say that despite China saying they regret what happened and that this is a civilian aircraft, of course, that is something that they do not believe.
Now Biden, we understand got his first briefing on Tuesday, so that is three days ago and during that meeting, he asked for military options, but we know now that he has been counseled by his top military advisers to not shoot down this balloon -- Anderson.
COOPER: And why is that? Why not just shoot it down?
MARQUARDT: They believe it's simply too dangerous. For right now, you know they're not ruling out, but they are saying that it is too dangerous for people on the ground and that in the sky, it does not pose any danger.
As you were saying, it is 60,000 feet in the air. It's the size of three buses. It has all that surveillance equipment on board. It has those solar panels, so getting shot down from that height would mean a very wide debris field. All this metal clanging to Earth at very high speed, as one US official put it to our colleague Haley Britzky, this is not like "Top Gun" where it just explodes and doesn't go anywhere. It is large and it's metal, it would put hundreds of Americans at risk.
So for now, Anderson, this floats on in the skies above the US. The Pentagon is saying that this could -- it could stay up there for several more days. Of course, it is subject to the winds, and so that could change with high winds.
So we are watching very closely where this balloon is spotted -- Anderson.
COOPER: Alex Marquardt, appreciate it.
Now the question of where next because the balloon appears to be drifting, as Alex was just saying with the high altitude wind, so we will check in with our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray.
So where made this spy balloon go next?
JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Anderson, it's interesting because the way it has been flying from basically north to south, first spotted in Montana, and then all the way down in Missouri most recently, as of today, it looks to be following the winds. We've had all of these cold fronts come through, and so the winds are very strong from north to south, currently. And so it does make sense if you overlay basically where it's traveled, you can track those winds all the way down.
But over the next couple of days, the winds -- or the next 24 hours, I should say, the winds really do turn more West to East. So that would make you think that it would sort of drift in that direction.
Now you have to take all of this with a little bit of a grain of salt, because winds can dramatically change speed with height, they can also change direction. So based just on the knowledge that we know right now, assuming that it is just drifting with the wind, you would expect for it to take more of a trajectory like this over the next 24 hours or so, and maybe come off the coast around the Carolinas or so or maybe Virginia, hard to tell, but this is what it would look like as of right now.
COOPER: I was just going to say, this is surreal that I'm talking to you, and you know, usually you're doing like a weather system, and we're actually tracking a Chinese spy balloon.
So could a drift -- I mean, it could drift out past Washington, DC, past New York City, it could go out into the ocean.
GRAY: Right. I mean, it's hard to say exactly where it will go, because of all the things I just said. But the changing wind speeds or changing directions, things like that. I think it would be hard for it to end up across the Northeast and major cities, if it's solely drifting by the winds, because of the winds will be north to south, you know, we have this extreme cold blast in the Northeast right now, and that is sort of driving those upper level winds from north to south. So I think it would hold on to that trajectory as of right now.
Of course, so many things to consider. And like you said, super weird that I'm talking to you about this, but based on the weather knowledge that we know, this is what we're thinking right now.
COOPER: Yes, Jennifer Gray, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Joining us now is Matthew Smith. He's a storm chaser who spotted the balloon, took still photos of it over Warrensburg, Missouri, and not far from Whiteman Air Force Base, which is home to the B-2 stealth bomber.
Matthew, appreciate you joining us. Again, we are talking to a storm chaser now chasing a Chinese spy balloon. Can you just walk us through how you spotted the balloon?
MATTHEW SMITH, STORM CHASER: Yes, for sure.
First of all, thank you for welcoming me to your show. Just one of the things for the last 24 hours, I have been watching on FlightRadar 24, the last kind of known location where it was -- military planes have been flying over Montana, and again, going off with what you guys were talking about with jet streams and everything, we know that it's on the southeast trajectory over towards Missouri, with the last known reports around Nebraska, and this was about 12:15, 12:30-ish and I just happened to kind of look up on the most beautiful clear blue sky.
And of course, you know, it wasn't hard to spot the only white object in the sky except for a couple of military planes flying around it. And sure enough, it was just there in Warrensburg which, you know, just isn't far from Whiteman Air Force Base as well.
COOPER: So when you saw it, there were actually military planes flying nearby it?
SMITH: Correct, there was at least one or two. You know, they weren't very far from it, just kind of, you know, keeping surveillance on it.
From what I know, at least one of them was the Stratotanker which you know, just is a refill plane, but there have been planes currently, you know, trying to track it as it is right now down in Southeast Missouri.
COOPER: And when you took these photos, how far was the balloon from -- do you have a sense of what altitude the balloon was at?
SMITH: Well, of course, you know, being an avid photographer of planes and everything, you know, it was much higher than you know, your standard airplanes, your 747s and everything. It had to be at least fifty, sixty thousand 000 feet because I mean, even for the size of it, you could still barely make it out to the naked eye.
COOPER: Yes, The Pentagon at one point, I think the military said it was about 60,000 feet. So, you could see it with the naked eye.
SMITH: Correct. You could see the actual balloon, and you know, if the sun was shining just bright enough, you can catch a glimpse of the panels -- solar panels or whatever it is, that's actually flying on the bottom of this balloon, like glittering off of it.
COOPER: And were other people around you? I mean, were people looking up? Were people asking you what are you looking at?
SMITH: Oh, yes. For sure. I was actually out on my lunch break at work. And of course I'm looking up at the sky and everyone else is looking at me like crazy, and I'm like, no, look up. There is a Chinese balloon everyone is talking about and I'm like sure enough, it's flying over.
So I'm not the only one that saw that. There are a lot of other reports in Warrensburg, Knob Noster, Whiteman Air Force Base there that also saw it as well.
COOPER: It's just -- it's really fascinating. Matthew Smith, I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
SMITH: Perfect. Thank you so much.
COOPER: Our next guest, Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester. He Chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which will be holding hearings shortly on the matter.
Senator Tester, I appreciate you joining us. You've been raising, you know, warnings about China and spying and the threat poses to the United States. Do you think the US should shut down -- should shoot this thing down?
SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): So, look, Anderson, first of all it's great to be on your show. Secondly, Montanans, and I think all Americans appreciate our freedoms and our privacy, and to have a Chinese surveillance balloon flying over a State like Montana, which has our ICBMs and is critical to deterrence to any sort of conflict is disturbing, to say the least.
I also depend upon our military officials to keep us safe, and the folks that I have worked with are sharp, they are good. They tend to analyze every situation that's out there. So I will go with what they're doing right now as being the right decision.
But I will also tell you that the reason we're going to have this hearing, as soon as possible, is to find out what went into the thought process as to why they handled this situation the way they handled it and what the threat was. Because I think anytime you have China, a country that wants to replace us as the economic leader and the military leader in the world, doing this kind of garbage, it requires some explanations.
And to make sure that if this happens again, we are very confident that there will be no good thing that come out of it for China.
COOPER: There obviously have been extensive Chinese spying efforts focused on the United States for a long time, both the US government and also companies in the United States, corporate secrets, the fact that there is now according to Pentagon, another Chinese spy balloon transiting Latin America, have you ever heard about Chinese spy balloons before over the United States? I mean, do you have a sense that this has happened a lot? That this is just the first time people are really noticing it?
TESTER: I think this is the first time people are noticing and I have never been informed that there have been balloons previously. And I'm Chair of the Defense Committee on Appropriations, so we get classified briefs all the time.
But the truth is, this is unacceptable. China needs to know it's unacceptable and they need to knock this stuff off.
COOPER: You don't think it's a coincidence that it was going over Montana, you know, home to underground US military intercontinental ballistic missile silos, do you? TESTER: I do not think anything out there is a coincidence when it comes to surveillance. I think everything is very well planned out and I think there was no errors being made here. I think China knew exactly what they were doing, and we just have to make sure that they got no information from the surveillance below.
COOPER: And so I mean, at this point, do you know all -- you know, just some background, do you know details of when this thing entered US airspace, where it was launched from? Anything like that?
TESTER: I don't know where it was launched from, but I do know the details of when it entered the US airspace, but there are far more questions that need to be answered by the military, and we are going to get the right person in front of us to get those questions answered, because I think this is a very serious matter that China has decided to do.
Like I've said, we've seen things happen in the Indo Pacific, we've seen it things happen on the internet, we know there's a lot of stuff happening in space. Now, this is one more thing to add to China's list of bad behavior.
COOPER: What sort of questions would you like answered right away?
TESTER: I want to know what went into the process of whether they were going to shoot it down or any other procedure that might be out there to be able to capture that balloon. I want to know how many times this has happened in the past. I want to know how many times it has flown over Montana, because we are an ICBM site. And there are just a lot more questions that need to be answered as far as what happened.
Now, I'm not making any assertions of what the military, the decisions they've made are the wrong ones. I just want to know the thought process behind them so that we can be assured that this country remains safe.
COOPER: And Senator Tester, I know you're also concerned about Chinese government or associated with the government buying up farmland in the United States. You have the PASS Act in Congress.
TESTER: A hundred percent correct, Anderson. Senator Rounds and myself have a bill we're carrying to stop Chinese in particular, but Russia, North Korea, and Iran from buying farmland in this country. Look, and that's something that that people know about, the farmers know about that are on the ground in Montana and we need to stop that from happening because it puts our National Security and our food security at risk. They're both very, very much connected.
COOPER: Yes, Senator Tester. I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
TESTER: You bet. Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Joining us now, CNN senior political commentator and Air National Guard Lieutenant Colonel, Adam Kinzinger who has been a reconnaissance pilot for last 15 years; also former Defense Secretary William Cohen.
Secretary Cohen, according to Defense officials, US Northern Command are coordinating with NASA to determine the debris field if the balloon floating above the US were to be shot down. Do you think it should be?
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER US DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I think the first thing is to make sure it doesn't get out of this country. I think it has to be brought down under control, if at all possible. The United States has to gather the information on that balloon, the equipment that was used and what its capability was.
And frankly, I think Senator Tester is absolutely correct. He is approaching it the right way. Let's get some real answers here. When did the military first decide, this did not pose a threat, a military threat or a National Security threat? And then secondly, were we able to tap into, to hack into whatever technology is on board of that so- called aircraft? And were we able to take advantage and obscure what it was seeing?
So I think there are a lot of issues to be raised here, but the most important thing, when people call to shoot it down, I would do that from a military point of view. But the first thing I would ask is the Intelligence Community, what information do you have about their capability?
If you have a spy taking place, or someone who is a spy in this country that is about to leave, do you shoot him down? Or shoot that aircraft down? Or do you capture it? Bring it in? Interrogate it and find out what the facts are and what needs to be done to make sure it doesn't happen again?
COOPER: Congressman Kinzinger, have you ever heard of a Chinese spy balloon over the US before?
ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I haven't heard over the United States, although there are reports that these have flown over US territories, US outposts, particularly near China. This is certainly was not on my bingo card waking up this morning that this would happen, but it is really serious.
And I think, you know, there's a lot of people that say, what is the difference between this and a satellite? Massive differences between this and the satellite. A satellite doesn't have the potential to deliver weapons, a satellite can't necessarily do other things, some of the electronic gathering, some of the sniffing for nuclear materials, for instance, which is interesting as it goes over Montana.
So yes, I fully think that the military has to respond to this. I hope that the decision to not shoot it down was only because of concern of potential collateral damage. Because first off, you're over Montana, it's pretty sparsely populated area. So you have to wait, what is the National Security risk to this? And the last thing I'm very concerned about, is that this isn't the first or this isn't the last time because if this balloon is allowed to float free, basically, how many more balloons can China watch? And when is potentially the balloon that has the EMP on it going to arrive, and that's something we don't know.
COOPER: Well, also, if China can do it, I mean, you know, balloon technology, it's probably not that advanced. There is probably a lot of other countries that could do it as well.
KINZINGER: Yes, certainly, there could be. We can do something like this as well, but the violation of the airspace is a serious deal. It is one thing if a balloon would fly over international waters off the coast of the United States, it's a completely other thing to have it flying over Missouri and real, real concerns here.
COOPER: Right. I mean, Secretary Cohen, if this was an Iranian balloon or a North Korean balloon, would we have reacted the same way?
COHEN: I think we would have because the first thing we need to do is number one, is the balloon a military or security threat? But number two, can we get information out of it before we destroy it? We don't know.
For example, it couldn't have contained something within the balloon other than helium that could have posed a threat to us? Do we know whether it has any kind of biological component to it? So you want to ask those questions.
And I think Adam Kinzinger is completely correct about this in terms of what the Chinese may or may not do in the future, but we need to find out as much information from this particular balloon as we can to make sure that we put the Chinese on notice, come again, another time and we're not going to be asking questions, we know what to do.
But right here, I think it was really important to find out what kind of information were they gathering. Were we able to intercept it? And I know that we can take it down and I think we can take it down in a fairly responsible fashion, so it just doesn't come crashing down. We have the capability to help move it down.
If the Chinese can move it from China, we can move it from here, and I'm confident we can take it down.
COOPER: And Congressman Kinzinger, I mean, how would one bring it down? It's not like a balloon that just pops, right?
KINZINGER: Yes, I've seen a lot of interesting theories out there in the sphere, people wanting to take a giant claw and tear it. and I am like, I wish we had giant claws. We could do that. You know, I think if you look at it, bring it down. First off, it won't pop. So if you shoot it, it's not like you know, a birthday balloon. It basically would create a hole in it which of course the air can escape from so there's a way maybe to manage how many holes you put in the balloon using incendiary devices. I don't think it's going to be that easy. I mean, if you want to destroy it, destroy it, but I think it's -- I think when it finally does come down and the Secretary is right, we cannot let this get away from us and hopefully we can exploit more from them than they exploited from us.
But this is actually pretty -- this is a pretty tough operation I think to come about and actually do.
COOPER: And Secretary Cohen, now that The Pentagon is saying there's a second Chinese spy balloon crossing Latin America.
COHEN: Well, I think all of us have to be concerned about this. Is this a new technique being developed by the Chinese? A low-cost and low-risk as far as the capability is concerned? I think, Senator Tester said something before about the people of Montana worried about their privacy.
The Chinese have capability, the Russians have capability, which certainly intrudes upon our privacy. That's gone for all practical purposes, in terms of trying to hide things from them. The real question is, Congressman Kinzinger is saying is what capabilities does this particular aircraft have. They can loiter and linger for hours or days over a specific site gathering information, so we need to know what that capability is and to let the Chinese know, if you're taking a new technique as opposed to putting satellites up there, you better be prepared to have every one of them taken down.
COOPER: Secretary Cohen, Adam Kinzinger, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Coming up next, more on what China's Intelligence Services do when they are not sending balloons overhead, a closer look at the shape and considerable size of their effort to gather all kinds of information on American soil.
And later, a visit to one of the coldest, windiest spots in the country as tens of millions of people are bracing for what could be the biggest cold snap of the season.
COOPER: First one, now two suspected Chinese spy balloons, the latest said to be crossing Latin America, the other crossing this country. Now, whatever Intelligence value it might have, this does not represent even a sliver of China's spying efforts. CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto has more.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER US SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think that would be wise to remember that they will say whatever needs to be said in order to cover what they're trying to do.
JIM SCIUTTO CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Security officials say there has been a dramatic escalation in brazen Chinese spying on US soil over the past decade.
REP. DARIN LAHOOD (R-IL): You look at China's track record of being deceitful, not being honest, playing by a different set of rules. I have real concerns.
SCIUTTO (voice over): In 2017, a plan for China to build an ornate $100 million Chinese Garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, complete with temples and a pagoda was scrapped after counterintelligence officials raised red flags.
The pagoda, they said would have been strategically placed on one of the highest points in Washington, DC, just two miles from the US Capitol, a perfect spot for signals Intelligence collection.
China also wanted to use materials shipped to the US in diplomatic containers,, which Customs officials are banned from examining.
ROBERT O'BRIEN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And we want to continue to work with the Brits and we may have to go if they're going to have Huawei in their system, we'll go to carrier pigeons or these US carriers with locked briefcases or something we have to, but we're not going to let the Chinese have access -- unfettered access to our state secrets, so that's for sure.
SCIUTTO (voice over): Concern also rose in 2019 over cellular towers with Chinese made Huawei hardware atop them near military bases in the Midwest, and in the same area in Montana where their surveillance balloon was spotted over a military base that houses intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Huawei is a company that has drawn intense scrutiny from the US government for its ties to the Chinese government, but the company has strongly denied any efforts to spy on the US and said in a statement to CNN, that its equipment is not capable of operating in any communication spectrum allocated to the Defense Department.
And in North Dakota, near Grand Forks Air Force Base, a plan for a Chinese company to build a corn mill was halted just days ago, because of security concerns.
MAYOR BRANDON BOCHENSKI, GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA: I had a brief conversation with the Wing Commander on it, we just talked how interesting the timing was, you know, just on the national level with what was going on with the corn mill here, and that kind of coming to an end, and then a few days later, this balloon being spotted.
SCIUTTO (voice over): And now the balloon, which is only adding to already tense relations between the US and China.
REP. MICHAEL LAWLER (R-NY): It again, speaks volumes to the situation with respect to China. They are our greatest geopolitical threat. They are a threat economically, they are a threat militarily, and we need to take it serious.
COOPER: That was Jim Sciutto reporting. I want to get some perspective now from CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst, John Miller.
I mean, a balloon is not the most high-tech thing. Where does this balloon rank in terms of the range of ways that China is spying on the US?
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Not that high, both literally and figuratively. It's flying, you know, in the stratosphere, but below where their satellites are. But it is a collection platform.
You know, China -- the Chinese spokesman called it a force majeure. You know, we couldn't help it. The wind blew it there. I think the definition of a force majeure is two things, one, the inability because of unforeseeable circumstance to stick to an agreement or a contract, or the second definition, which is an irresistible impulse.
It feels more like number two, because Chinese Intelligence collection in the United States is pervasive, human intelligence. They're sending people in to join research institutions, government organizations, think tanks to pull things out.
COOPER: There is a huge data collection -- data collection effort by China.
MILLER: It is an army.
MILLER: I mean, literally an army. I mean, the People's Republic of China has a giant building filled with military people to hack into government databases, commercial databases, steal political, military, economic intelligence, but also trade secrets.
COOPER: I mean, this is so visible, it's not like -- they must have taken that into their calculation of that it would be seen and maybe that's part of it.
MILLER: I think that's exactly it. I think the Chinese just figure if we just keep throwing this massive effort all the time. You know, when I worked in the Director of National Intelligence, we always used to laugh because the Chinese stuff was being uncovered all the time because it was what we called clangy, you know, it made a lot of noise. They were easy to find, but it was also pervasive, which means it was a game of Whack-a-Mole and a lot of it gets through and gets information out.
COOPER: But the benefit of data collection like this, I mean, okay, maybe there's some sensors that sniff nuclear stuff. But I mean, what is the benefit of having you know images just low, you know high resolution images from 60,000 feet of Montana land? [20:30:10]
MILLER: So it's not in real time. They can't go back to a live picture, but it gives them a high-resolution recording of large swaths of the United States. You know, from 66,000 feet, you can see miles and miles and record that and be able to rewind through it, zoom into it.
For planning purposes, for strategic purposes, if you were targeting, for instance, and you wanted to get a close look at how that place looked for planning, it's useful to have in the file.
COOPER: Data collection. John Miller, appreciate it. Thanks so much. We'll see John again in just a moment.
Coming up, what you're looking at right here about your show is not the North Pole or the South Pole. It is America tonight. And we are going to take you to this spot and introduce you to the weather observer you see here as a blast of extreme cold now blankets the Northeast.
COOPER: Well, if you're in the northeast, it is cold outside. We could potentially see numerous record low temperatures across the northeast by tomorrow morning. About 25 million people are under windchill warnings or advisories after a brutal blast of arctic air pushed into the area.
Windchills are expected to be the lowest in decades in certain places. Take a look at what some of our affiliates have captured.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you can tell right now, my scarf, my hair, the winds here in Maine, at least in southern Maine, are really intense.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On a nice day, you can usually see a beautiful view of the Adirondack Mountains over in New York, but not today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we did do it a science experiment this morning. Let me show you. We wet a pair of sweatpants that we found and it took less than half an hour for them to get frozen like this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're also seeing little tornadoes out on the lake. Those, I'm told, are called steam devils.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exposed skin can get frostbite in as little as a few minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm wearing PJs underneath my pants. I'm wearing, like a long sleeve shirt.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And if possible, stay inside. I mean, as you can tell, I'm getting blown by the wind right now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With the windchill and you can see it is very windy. Temperatures are around negative 30 degrees.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It only took minutes for the water on this paper towel to become solid ice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the wind, when it hits your face, it feels like needles. Your teeth hurt and your eyes hurt. So make sure to stay inside this weekend, folks.
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COOPER: I love the frozen sweatpants. I got to say. If you're living in The Northeast and you hear the wind whipping around outside, you may think you live in one of the coldest spots in the storm. And it may be incredibly cold, but it is not Mount Washington in New Hampshire cold. That's the highest peak in the Northeast.
Earlier, I spoke to someone who is there right now, right at the peak, Francis Tarasiewicz, he's a weather observer and education specialist at Mount Washington Observatory.
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COOPER: Francis, thank you so much for doing this. Can you just talk a little bit about where you are right now and what is like outside where you are right now?
FRANCIS TARASIEWICZ, WEATHER OBSERVER, MOUNT WASHINGTON OBSERVATORY: Absolutely. So, of course, I'm on the summit of Mount Washington and outside, if I like show you briefly our current conditions here. I hope that focuses.
TARASIEWICZ: We've got wind right around 90 miles per hour. We've had 103 miles per hour, wind gusts in the last 10 minutes. It really the cool story. There is the windchill, 106 degrees below zero.
COOPER: Wow. So obviously you are not going outside.
TARASIEWICZ: We still are. However, we're nice and bundled up here on the summit. We do have to do our hourly observations. Of course 24/7, 365 up here on the Summit.
COOPER: It's a dumb question to ask what does it feel like to be in minus 106-degree Fahrenheit but like, what does it feel like?
TARASIEWICZ: So I did have a tiny sliver of my wrist exposed today and it felt like a continuous feasting. Or like a continuous sort of severe sunburn just reminding you like, hey, get exposed, it shouldn't Be.
COOPER: Do you know -- like how quickly would you get frostbite if you were very exposed out there?
TARASIEWICZ: In under a minute.
COOPER: Wow. That's incredible.
COOPER: Do you ever -- are you ever, like, tempted? Like sometimes when I'm on the air, like in the back of my mind I'm tempted to just say something insane that would derail my career. Are you ever tempted to just run out naked in 100 -- negative 100?
TARASIEWICZ: I think we joke about it.
COOPER: Don't do it. Just like I'm not going to do it, you shouldn't do it either. So there are predictions that you might beat all records tonight for the coldest temperatures ever recorded. Even as cold as, I mean, as -- what would the record be?
TARASIEWICZ: Sure. So the observatory's record goes back to 1932 and that would be 47 degrees below zero. And so we're very close to that. We're actually 46 degrees below zero. I'll switch back to this, sorry for my (INAUDIBLE). We're right here on the summit, the 6, 288 feet mark. So we're about a degree away from doing that.
And then the all-time record is actually recorded by the U.S. signal service back in 1885. That was 50 degrees below zero. So yes, at this rate, we may surpass that as well.
COOPER: Wow. That's exciting. I know you're up there for like a week shift. How much longer do you have in your shift?
TARASIEWICZ: About four or five more days. So pretty much just getting started.
COOPER: Well, I mean, if you got to be there for a week, it's cool that you're the one there when the record might be broken. I understand there was a door that blew open earlier. Can you show it to me and tell us what happened?
TARASIEWICZ: Sure. So I can take you right into our hallway here. This door gets us into our tower which goes another 60 feet or so above our heads. And yes, this door was the culprit. Another level up where there's another -- can you still hear me there?
COOPER: Yes, I hear you.
TARASIEWICZ: Awesome. Great. So, yes, this door had a steel pin like you see here. It completely snapped off. We had a wind gust around 127 miles per hour directly from the west. And so the store flew open and it took about three of us to close it back so that we could get this new latch. And for good measure, we have this two by four in place. Pretty much the store is the only thing between me and the 100-degree below windchills right now.
COOPER: So it's had ice on the lock that I'm seeing there?
TARASIEWICZ: That is, yes, I can kind of run my hand across it for you.
TARASIEWICZ: Definitely fresh ice there. And I think that's what contributed to the door failing as well. The metal was just so brittle and worn out with the cold.
COOPER: That -- even that stairwell must be really cold.
TARASIEWICZ: It is, yes. It's cold enough to have snow on it several hours after. And I'm going to show you this window as well. Quite a bit of frost accumulating on there.
COOPER: Wow. That's really incredible. So, Francis, if you could start -- I know you're starting to put on some gear.
COOPER: You're going to -- so what are you going to do? You're going to go outside just to show us how windy it is or what it's like out there?
TARASIEWICZ: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) my headlamp. We won't be able to see too much, but I think we'll be able to see the snow flying around and --
TARASIEWICZ: -- maybe (INAUDIBLE).
COOPER: All right. Cool.
TARASIEWICZ: We're going to step out into the -- that's very hard tech.
COOPER: So right now, it's about 46 degrees below zero, you said?
TARASIEWICZ: (INAUDIBLE). Yes, of course, it's quite dark out, obviously, so it's difficult to see much.
COOPER: Yes. I really appreciate it. So good talking to you.
TARASIEWICZ: Yes, definitely. And thanks for the opportunity.
COOPER: All right. I wish you the best. Stay warm.
TARASIEWICZ: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I couldn't see a thing, but it looked really cold.
Coming up, we examined the role of the Wagner Group, that mercenary outfit responsible for Russia's recent gains in Eastern Ukraine, as well as the bloody cost of those results.
COOPER: Number of important developments in the war in Ukraine we want to tell you about. On the day that President Biden approved billions more in aid, including for the first time, longer-range missiles, we also learned the sad news that an American volunteer aid worker and U.S. Marine veteran Pete Reed was killed in Bakhmut while helping Ukrainian civilians.
That city is become a focal point for Russia's attacks in the east. A lot of their recent gains in that region have been the work of a mercenary outfit called the Wagner group. Earlier this week, we introduced you to a former fighter for Wagner who says he defected. He spoke about the brutal tactics that they used, throwing wave after wave of soldiers into a hail of fire, all to secure small amounts of ground at a time.
We should note the head of Wagner responded to that interview. He said Wagner was a, quote, exemplary military organization that complies with all the necessary laws and rules of modern war. Many reports say otherwise.
Tonight, CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more on Wagner's role in the war.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Ukrainian reinforcements on the move around the embattled city Bakhmut. While the Russians have made gains here recently, Kyiv is now sending in some of its toughest combatants. Ukraine's President vowing stiff resistance.
We consider Bakhmut our fortress, he says. We consider our soldiers who have fallen here heroes. If we get accelerated weapons, especially long-range, we will not only gain ground around Bakhmut, but we will also begin to de-occupy Donbas.
Russia's gains here have come mostly thanks to this man. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the brutal Wagner private military company, now showing off his group's ever heavier weapons. Wagner has long styled itself as Vladimir Putin's most effective fighting force, often using convicts recruited straight from Russian jails for near suicidal assaults on Ukrainian positions.
The U.S. and Ukraine say Wagner troopers who refuse are often shot on the spot, acclaim Wagner has not denied. After taking a small village north of Bakhmut, these fighters even brag about the appalling conditions. The guys swam across the river, he says, their hands and feet froze, some lost their limbs, but they went ahead and did not ask for evacuation.
While visiting a new Wagner training center in an occupied part of Ukraine, Prigozhin admitted he wants more fighters. Ruthless, brutal and expendable. Here, they finish their training, he said. First, they make them into baby eagles, and here they become cannibals.
But those so-called cannibals appear to be dying by the thousands. This drone footage given to us by Ukrainian forces purports to show scores of Wagner fighters littering the hills around Bakhmut.
The drone commander tells me Wagner's assault tactics are extremely wasteful. They mix in prisoners with no combat experience and send them as cannon fodder to exhaust our fighters, he says. Then they send their own special forces to attack our flanks.
While Ukrainian troops are on the backfoot in Bakhmut, Wagner's attrition rate might be so high, they can't even find enough convicts to use as cannon fodder, says Olga Romanova of the civil rights group Russia Behind Bars, that keeps in touch with those sent to Ukraine by Wagner.
77 percent is the number of combat and non-combat Wagner losses in the current campaign, she says. That includes killed, wounded, deserted and captured. And though, Ukrainian troops say they themselves are losing too many soldiers, they vow to outlast Russia's mercenaries dying in their thousands on the Eastern front.
COOPER: And Fred Pleitgen joins us now. What do Ukrainian leaders say they need to not only hold off the Wagner forces in Bakhmut, but also begin pushing Russia back?
PLEITGEN: Hi, Anderson. Well, they say they need more of those longer distance weapons.
Essentially, what we hear from Ukrainian officials, but also from battlefield commanders on the front lines, is they say, that when the U.S. first gave the Ukrainians the HIMARS, they started hitting a lot of those Russian weapons, depots and logistics and supply lines. But they say the Russians have, quite frankly, adapted.
They've moved all of that further away from the battlefields, out of the range of the HIMARS. And that's why the Ukrainians are saying those longer distance weapons, like, for instance, those small diameter bombs, those are going to be key for the Ukrainians to hit some of those supply lines once again.
However, Anderson, they also say they want more of that, and they also want the ATACMS missiles that will allow them to hit the Russians even further away. On top of that, this was quite interesting, the Ukrainian defense minister today said they expect the Russians are going to come with a lot of armor and a lot of firepower. They also still need more artillery, and especially artillery ammo to hold that off once that real Russian assault begins.
The Ukrainians, of course, are saying they think that the offensive may already have started, but they also think that the rest of February and March is going to get a lot worse. Anderson?
COOPER: Yes, Fred Pleitgen, appreciate it. Thank you.
Up next, what shell casings found at the crime scene could mean for Alex Murdaugh, the former lawyer charged with murdering his wife and son. Plus, allegations that Murdaugh hid millions of dollars that should have gone to the family of his late housekeeper. Question is, will the jury hear about that? Latest from South Carolina ahead.
COOPER: Day 10 of the Alex Murdaugh's murder trial focused on two key areas. But once again, the jury was kept from hearing about possible financial crimes the prosecutors point to as a motive. Now, as you know, Murdaugh is a disgraced former South Carolina lawyer charged in the shooting deaths of his wife and son back in 2021.
Today, a son of the Murdaugh family's late housekeeper testified away from the jury that Murdaugh hid more than $4 million in insured settlement money from her family after her death, stealing it. The housekeeper died a few weeks after an alleged fall at the Murdaugh's home in 2018.
But our Randi Kaye shows us what the jury did hear today that prosecutors hope will rule out anyone other than Alex Murdaugh as the killer.
PAUL GREER, FIREARMS EXPERT, SLED: This is an example of a 223 Remington. This is the one that you may be more familiar with. I will show you now side by side. This is the 300 blackout.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Paul Greer is a firearms expert for SLED, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. He examined shell casings found at the murder scene and elsewhere around Alex Murdaugh's property.
Greer told the jury that some of the casings found at the scene were fired from or ejected by weapons used before at Alex Murdaugh's home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And all those items are of the same model and manufacturer, is that correct?
GREER: Yes, sir. They all appear to have the same headstamp, information and information on the side of the shelf. And their case construction all appears to be consistent. KAYE (voice-over): Prosecutors say Maggie Murdaugh was shot five times with a 300-blackout rifle and their son Paul was killed with a shotgun. According to testimony, both of those were often used by the Murdaugh family.
GREER: This shotgun was determined to be one Benelli model super black Eagle 3 semiautomatic shotgun and 12-gauge.
KAYE (voice-over): Here's why this expert's testimony is key. By telling the jury that shell casings scattered around the property where the Murdaugh's live and shell casings found at the murder scene match firearms from the home. The state is making the case that the guns used to kill Maggie and Paul had been fired many times on the Murdaugh property and were owned by the Murdaughs.
Remember, this witness, John Bedingfield, said he built three 300 blackout rifles for Alex Murdaugh. And Paul's good friend, Rogan Gibson testified this week about shooting the 300 blackout with Paul just a couple of months before the murders.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you and Paul were together hunting with that blackout, did you usually have the gun in shoot or did Paul usually have the gun in shooting?
ROGAN GIBSON, PAUL MURDAUGH'S FRIEND: It just depend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who had the gun more?
GIBSON: Probably Paul.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One guy's driving, the other guy's looking?
GIBSON: That's correct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that something you all did frequently?
GIBSON: A good bit, yes, sir.
KAYE (voice-over): The state's goal convinced the jury the murder weapon was familiar to the Murdaugh property and eliminate the possibility that the killer could have come from the outside with a weapon that hadn't been used on the property before. The defense tried to pour water on his findings by pointing out the murder weapons have never been officially identified.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are not offering an opinion that item 22 shotgun was used to murder Paul Murdaugh, correct?
GREER: My result was inconclusive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're not here to tell this jury, in your opinion, that this 300 blackouts laying on the floor here was used to murder Maggie Murdaugh, correct?
GREER: The results of the comparisons of those cartridge cases, items 237, with test fires from that item 33 rifle were also inconclusive. (END VIDEOTAPE)
COOPER: Randi Kaye is with us now from South Carolina. So, does the state have the murder weapons?
KAYE: That's a good question, Anderson. We know from testimony that they seized weapons from Alex Murdaugh's home that are like the murder weapons. They seized a 300-blackout rifle. They seized a shotgun. But that ballistics expert is now saying that he's not sure if those are the murder weapons. He can't say they are, and he can't say they aren't.
So we know that the weapons that they seize from the home have similar characteristics to the murder weapons, but they can't say for sure.
COOPER: OK, hold on one second.
KAYE: And we've never received any official information that they have those murder weapons with the state, Anderson?
COOPER: All right. Randi, we're losing you because of the siren. Appreciate it. Thank you very much.
There's much more ahead on this busy Friday night. We'll get an update on that second suspected Chinese spy balloon passing over Latin America, according to the Pentagon. And of course, we're tracking the Chinese balloon still over U.S. airspace right now. What happens if the U.S. tries to actually shoot it down? We'll look at that.
Our breaking news coverage continues.