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At This Hour

Rebels Turn Over Flight 17 Black Boxes; Moscow Says Shoot Down Was Probably Accident Not Terrorism; Is Cold War Back?; E.U. Leaders To Hold Conference; Delta Airlines Suspending Flights To and From Tel Aviv

Aired July 22, 2014 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.


It is 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West.

Accusations thrown, denials given, promises made, and bodies moved. There's a whole lot going on as the world seeks justice for the doomed people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

BERMAN: This is what we know right now. A grim arrival by train at a Ukrainian town, the bodies of 282 of those on board the flight now out of rebel hands, the first remains expected to arrive back in the Netherlands tomorrow.

Pro-Russian rebels also handed the planes black boxes to Malaysian officials. These of course could hold key evidence about what happened to this flight.

Now there's international flavor here, Britain agreeing to help Dutch investigators get data from these black boxes.

PEREIRA: Also a new image from the Pentagon shows the trajectory of the missile that took the plane down. You can see the plane as a yellow line coming from the left. The missile is on the green on the right.

The Ukrainian official says he is certain a Russian officer personally pushed the button.

BERMAN: Meantime, Russian president Vladimir Putin promises to use his influence with the rebels to push for a full investigation, but that is not much consolation to his critics.

Many of them here in the United States sound an awful lot like Senator John McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Vladimir Putin is literally getting away with murder, and I mean literally, and we are doing very little in response.


PEREIRA: Let's go right to our Ivan Watson. He is on the ground near Ukraine's southeastern border with Russia. It's good to have you with us. We know it's been very busy and very tense there.

Give us a look at the situation on the ground right now. Is there fighting happening near you?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There has been the rumble of artillery throughout the day Monday, throughout the night, Monday night, heard in distance, I'd estimate, you know, minimum six miles away.

Some artillery strikes hit this city on Monday and, according to city officials, killed at least five civilians. And we saw some apartment blocks that had been hit by this artillery that appeared like it had come from the direction of Ukrainian government, military positions.

And of course that triggered some fear here in Donetsk. This is a separatist-held city.

The crash zone, Michaela, is about an hour-plus drive from here. It is in another area controlled by the separatists, but not that far from the fighting.

For example, when Malaysian experts went to the scene to start inspecting the site today, they heard in the distance the sound of rockets being fired, saw some of the signs of that artillery being fired, and that does underscore the fact that this terrible tragedy happened in an active war zone.

And no less than Russian president Vladimir Putin himself has admitted that likely this plane would not have gone down if it wasn't for the fact that there is an ugly civil war that's been under way for months now in this corner of Ukraine.

BERMAN: In that corner of Ukraine, Ivan, there have been signs of progress as you say -- investigators getting more access to the scene, the bodies of the victims now turned over, thankfully after all this time, and also the black boxes.

And within that, perhaps maybe some signs of the duplicity, for lack of a better word, of the rebels who held them for four days.

WATSON: That's right. Let me just give you a little bit of background.

For more than four days, the self-declared prime minister of the separatist region said he wouldn't confirm whether or not he actually had the black boxes in his possession.

He frequently said he had some kind of technical object, but he didn't have the technical expertise to determine whether these were in fact the flight recorders. So then fast-forward to this morning, before dawn, at a ceremony at the rebel headquarters, where the prime minister, Alexander Borodai, handed over these two orange devices to a Malaysian delegation, and they both signed a handover ceremony.

And there are clearly on the side of those devices the names "flight recorders," which I think to any untrained eye would suggest that these were the so-called black boxes that he wasn't entirely transparent about it, and that's part why some people have accused the rebels of a cover up.

BERMAN: Yeah, when they say flight recorders, that might be a good sign that they are in fact flight recorders.

Ivan Watson for us on the border between Ukraine and Russia, thanks so much for being with us.

PEREIRA: So now that those black boxes have been recovered and turned over to the Malaysian authorities and the victims' bodies have been moved out of the conflict zone, will be repatriated, what can they tell us about the crash?

BERMAN: Joining us, our safety analyst David Soucie, also military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

David, I want to start with you here. We have with us one of these black boxes, and let's dispense with the obvious. They are not black. We know that now. They're orange.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: And it also says flight data recorder on it.

BERMAN: It does. An obvious sign that it is a flight data recorder for the pro-Russian rebels who may not have known that.

Listen, what kind of information at this point do they expect to get from these boxes? I've heard everything from flight paths, technical information, but also possibly even sounds of an explosion from the cockpit voice recorder?

SOUCIE: From the cockpit voice recorder, that is a good possibility. However, because of the way it was hit, because the tail section was on its way off during the collision or with the debris, I'm not sure that it had power to continue to record the sounds from that point forward.

However, the flight data recorder would have a lot of really critical information. If you align -- if someone questions whether it's a missile or where it might have come from, you could look at the perforation marks in the side of the aircraft.

The flight data recorder would tell you exactly the position of the aircraft, whether it was turning left or right or up or down.

At that point you can align that aircraft through graphics, you can look where a piece of shrapnel went in and came out by using the metals, and trace that all the way back down to see where the missile came from.

However, these missiles don't actually go straight, so --

PEREIRA: But it gives you an idea.

SOUCIE: It gives definitely a clue what direction it came in.

PEREIRA: Before we get to Mark, I want to ask you, because there's a concern about the chain of custody -- the rebels had these four days --


PEREIRA: Is there a possibility they could have been tampered with and would that hamper the contents?

SOUCIE: Yeah, as far as tampering, as far as altering the data, highly unlikely.

PEREIRA: Wiping it out?

SOUCIE: -- has the technology.

But wiping it out is definitely a possibility. So if it is wiped out, it would be very suspicious because at least in the history of my investigative background of 25 years, I've never had one that didn't have anything on it.

So if it was wiped out, that's very, very suspicious.

BERMAN: General, I want to bring you in here. You've spent a lot of time in the region, in Ukraine. You've worked with the people there on the ground.

I'm wondering what you think is going on now in the heads of pro- Russian rebels, because they do seem to have backed down some on the bodies of the victims, on the crash site, on the data recorders here.

Why do you think they've done this, and what do you think they are after, going forward?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think, John, they're scrambling. They've been scrambling since they realized what they hit was not what they thought they hit.

And I think there's been a -- it shows the lack of professionalism of this group of proxies, for lack of a better term. They don't know what they are doing. They are fighters. They are attempting to disrupt and cause chaos in eastern Ukraine. And I think this kind of a big event really threw some of them for a loop.

You've seen some of the indicators the kind of force they are, the way they approach engagements, the way they deal with the media, the way they try and bully their way through.

These are not professional soldiers. They may have been in the past. They may be guided by some professional soldiers, by some special operators, what the Russians call Spetsnaz.

But it's just -- they're scrambling. They're trying to figure out what their next step is, and it's been a continuing comedy of errors on their part.

PEREIRA: And, General, I imagine, because of this unpredictable nature, you have to be very careful in how you deal with them, especially when this investigation isn't complete, even close to complete?

HERTLING: Oh, absolutely. I give great credit to all the reporters that are on the scene and the professional journalists that are there, but especially the Office of Security Cooperation Europe.

Those guys are doing masterful work under some very tough circumstances, things that they are not really trained to -- the OSCE, especially, they are not trained to do this kind of stuff, and they are managing some tensions between these Russian separatists and might have on the ground.

They're on a razor's edge between really infuriating these guys and having them do something dumb.

BERMAN: Sunlight can sometimes force the issue.

General Mark Hertling, David Soucie, thanks so much for being with us. I appreciate your insight here.

Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, how far can the U.S. press Vladimir Putin now?

PEREIRA: Ahead, also, he cheated death twice, how one man avoided doomed Flight 17 and Flight 370 at the last minute.

BERMAN: Plus, we're going to have the very latest from Gaza. As the death toll there rises, are opportunities for a cease-fire disappearing?

Stay with us.


PEREIRA: A Ukrainian official says he is certain a Russian officer pushed the button to shoot down Flight 17, Moscow, for its part, denying that, but whoever fired the missile, was it an act of terror?

Take a listen to what the Russian ambassador to the United Nations told reporters.


VITALY CHURKIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: According to them, the people from the east were saying that they shot down a military jet, so if it was shot down a military jet, there was confusion.

If there was confusion, it was not an act of terrorism.


BERMAN: If it did happen, it was confusion, not terrorism. Interesting.

Obviously relations between the U.S. and Russia were already cool before Flight 17 was shot down. Now, things could get noticeably colder.

Here's what Senate intelligence chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you believe that the U.S. Russian relations are now at Cold War levels?



PEREIRA: Joining us @ THIS HOUR, Nick Burns, he is the former U.S. ambassador to NATO. He also worked at the National Security Council for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton

Good to have you with is with us. Thank so much, sir, for just joining us @ THIS HOUR.

The U.S. just issued more sanctions on Russia over Ukraine. Russia issued a list of Americans it's banning from travel to Russia.

I want to get your assessment on this, Ambassador. Is Dianne Feinstein right, that the Cold War is back?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, I think she's right that this is a crisis in U.S.-Russia relations and certainly Cold War passions have been unleashed.

Why? Because Putin is essentially questioning now how the Cold War ended. He is drawing new dividing lines in Europe. He's annexed Crimea. He's fundamentally destabilizing Ukraine. There is no question that the Russian government is supplying the Russian separatists with sophisticated military hardware, including the SA-11 missile system that brought down the Malaysian aircraft.

So, he's created a crisis, profound crisis, in relations between the east and west. It won't look exactly like the cold war, because there are still things that we have to do with Russia. We are partners with Russia, for instance, in the Iran negotiations, trying to prevent them from becoming a nuclear weapons power. We're partners with Russia in the North Korea negotiations. There's an awful lot of trade that goes on between Europe and Russia and the United States and Russia, but there's a crisis of trust and I think between President Obama and President Putin, zero trust at this point in time.

BERMAN: We have an international space station, it might get awfully chilly up there as well.

Ambassador, Vladimir Putin does not strike me as the type of guy who says I'm sorry, who says I was wrong about something. However there have been a few things over the last few days. Obviously, handing over the black boxes from the pro-Russian rebels, allowing investigators on the site there, the victims bodies final getting out of the crash area there. Is this what it looks like when Vladimir Putin backs down a little bit even if he doesn't say it so much out loud?

BURNS: I don't think so. I don't think he's sorry. He's an authoritarian leader. He's used to getting his own way. He's also accustomed to lying to his own people and the rest of the world. It seems to me just watching this, that the Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine are lying about what happened, as is the Russian government.

I think the reason you've seen this subtle charm offensive by the Kremlin over the last 24 hours, they want to avoid major sectoral economic sanctions. The European Union foreign ministers are meeting today in Brussels to debate those sanctions. And as you know, since the invasion of the Crimea at the end of February, the European Union has been very reluctant to step up to tough sanctions, whereas President Obama has been willing to do that.

Now here's the time of testing for the E.U., because of this outrage that's happened, with the shoot down of the Malaysian aircraft, with so many hundreds of Europeans dead on that aircraft, will the Europeans finally step up to the kind of sanctions that will hurt the Russian economy? That's what Putin wants to avoid, and that's why we're seeing these relatively mild words from Putin over the last 24 hours. He hasn't had a change of heart.

PEREIRA: And that is the question. As you mentioned, those E.U. leaders meeting to discuss it. You look at the fact that the Dutch lost so many of their citizens, a nation so small, not having seen this kind of loss of life in recent history, and it makes you wonder how much pressure they are going to add and how strong their voices will be. I wonder if there are voices, that you think, can get through to Putin. We know that Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, has had his ear, and has been in discussions with Putin over the Ukrainian crisis. Are you hopeful that there maybe could be some talking to him at this point?

BURNS: You know, Michaela, at this point, I don't think words, I don't think diplomacy, conversations are going to do it with Putin. Because he seems to be immune to New York Times editorials, or people writing op-eds against him. He seems to be very vulnerable however to the kind of sanctions that would arrest capital investment in Russia or stop manufactured exports from Germany to Russia. He needs that. His economy is highly integrated.

So that's why this decision by the European Union is so important. It's ironic, that the Dutch, the Greeks, the Italians in the E.U. context, over the last several months, have been opposing tough sanctions because each of them have an important economic relationship with Russia. But we're beginning to see the United Kingdom, certainly the countries of eastern Europe, inside the E.U. campaigning for tough sanctions. I think that's the question of the week. Will Europe finally stand up to Vladimir Putin?

PEREIRA: We'll have to wait and see. Those E.U. leaders meting today, hopefully there will be some powerful movements and their voices will be heard and action will be taken.

Ambassador Nick Burns, thanks so much for joining us @ THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, the death toll rising on both sides as air strikes and ground assaults ramp up in Gaza. Can Secretary of State John Kerry broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas? That's next.


BERMAN: All right. This breaking news, Delta Airlines has suspended flights to and from Tel Aviv in Israel. This after one of its flights was diverted as it was coming into Ben Gurion International Airport after seeing signs of rocket debris near the airport there. That flight, which actually had one of our reporters on it, CNN's John Voss, was diverted to Paris.

I want to bring in Rene Marsh right now to give us some of the details here. Delta, obviously, a major American airline in the airport in Tel Aviv. Ben Gurion, obviously, a major international airport.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. You know, we're getting all of this information so bear with me here. But here's what we know from the airline itself. Delta telling us, as you just said, they are suspend flights to and from Tel Aviv, this after, again rockets or debris associated with rockets were discovered near the airport there in Tel Aviv. That all happening while a flight that was in the air had to be diverted. This flight was traveling from New York to Tel Aviv. It was Delta flight 468, some 273 passengers on board, 17 crew members, and because of this, what they are calling security concern, this flight had to divert to Paris.

As that is all happening, we are now hearing from -- based on Israeli media, Israeli media, I should say, U.S. carriers, multiple U.S. carriers, we're talking about U.S. Air, United, Delta as well, they are canceling flights to Israel as a result of this rocket fire. Again, still developing, but what we have confirmed here, Delta, because of this security issue, a flight had to be diverted. They are stopping flights from coming in and out of Tel Aviv and now we're getting word from Israeli media that other carriers are following suit. We're staying on top of this as we get more information, John, of course, we'll get that to you.

BERMAN: Rene Marsh for us in Washington, thanks so much.

PEREIRA: Well, let's get some context to this. David Soucie is here with us, we brought him back on set, our safety analyst can talk about the meaning and the significance behind this. David, obviously, there's a lot that goes into making decisions about redirecting flights. We know economics are at play, safety is at play. When you look at the situations that are going on, both in Ukraine and obviously in the Middle-East, these airlines must be, obviously, on edge trying to figure out what they do and when they act.

SOUCIE: This is real good evidence of the fact that their safety concerns have been escalated to a level of hyper-criticality. Every time that there is an accident, something goes on, everyone in the industry - In fact, I have been in contact with several of the airlines right now that are trying to group together to find out how to cover the holes of the communications and the things that might have led to MH-17. There's areas of -- that information is not being shared about what's going on the ground, military information is not being shared. They are going to get together in a group and possibly in Kuala Lumpur, to put together a group to find out how we're going to work with IKO, all the other civil organizations to come up with a way to communicate with the military about his type of activity.

BERMAN: Richard -- Richard Quest joined us also. Richard, obviously, air threats right now. Rockets and missiles very much a concern. But this seems to be a different kind of threat we are talking about.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: I've just literally been speaking to the director general of IATA, which is the International Air Transport Association. That is the representative body of airlines globally. So IKO does governments, IATA does the airlines. I specifically asked them, while I was doing the interview with him we got this news on Delta. And I asked him, you know, what is this with airlines? Because, repeatedly we're being told it's governments that have to close airspace not the airlines.

What he basically said is yes, when you are talking about flying over a country where you don't have any assets, you have to rely on governments, but if you are landing there and you've got planes there and you know where it is, and you've got intelligence there, then, yes, the airline does have to -- it should be the governments. IATA is holding the Israeli government responsible for decisions on safety of Israeli airspace. But if they are not prepared to do it, if they are still saying it's safe, then the airline, in this case he is saying, has to make its own judgment. It's an absolutely impossible situation for the airline. Absolutely impossible. They are being told you can fly there, it's safe. But at the same time, well, they know it's not really.

PEREIRA: Add to this, David, the U.S. government has already issued a travel advisory to Gaza, so obviously a situation there is concerning enough. You add to it what's going on in Ukraine. I think a lot of people were surprised to know that a commercial airline would have flown over an area that is a hot bed of fighting right now anyway, but it's a question of economics isn't it?

SOUCIE: I'm not sure I would go with economics, to be honest with you. It's not that significantly less money or more money to go around or not go around. It's a matter of awareness. It's a matter of information sharing, communication and understanding the level of risk involved. To assess risk, you have to know all those possible hazards and outcomes. BERMAN: This isn't about going around, this is about going to and

stopping there and landing there. There may not be flight able to land there. I am curious what you gentleman think is the specific threat, because we're not talking about the Buk missile systems here, were talking about, presumably, these rockets, some of them crude other not so crude, from Iran flying out of Gaza and landing in Israel.

QUEST: If you look at the sort of - Anyone who has flown into Ben Gurion, and if you know the flight path into Ben Gurion, it specifically avoids Gaza. I have got many pilots who go into Ben Gurion frequently and you basically have to take -- you are vectored in, around, quick turn a long way around and straight in again. It's a very difficult situation for an airline bringing a 777 or a 747 in, having to make the judgment at what point do you say I'm no longer going to go there.

SOUCIE: It's interesting, two or three days ago, a friend of mine, Eugene Regoruskee (ph), was flying into that same airport, and he said that they were delayed because of rocket fire. Yet they didn't stop anything at that point. He went ahead, they did circles around, they came around, had it inspected, and then they landed. It wasn't rocket fire actually at the airport, it was nearby, they had to divert the airplane. They were delayed because of it, they couldn't get to where they were going. Now they are there and they are safe with their young child. But it's concerning that at that point --

QUEST: But David, if I may, at what point does the responsibility now shift very firmly to the Israeli government to note it and say, even though we think it's safe, you have the right to say it's not safe.

SOUCIE: Exactly. You can always override that as you are coming in -- You are talking about the airline being able to say that as well.

QUEST: No, I'm talking about the Israelis for not closing the space.

PEREIRA: I was going to say, we don't have indication that the airport itself is closed. Delta is not landing there. But we don't know that the airport is closed to outgoing flights. It's not.

SOUCIE: There is obviously evidence it's not safe. Because that pilot, or whoever made that decision, decided to go somewhere else. Other airlines flying in there now are taking a lot of risk, because they are aware of the fact that there is additional risk there.