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CNN This Morning

Slow-Moving Chinese Surveillance Balloon Discovered Floating over Continental U.S.; Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper Interviewed on Possible U.S. Responses to Discovery of Chinese Surrounding Balloon; "Maine Cabin Masters" Hosts Give Advice on Keeping Your Cabin Warm in Winter; CIA Chief Says Next Six Months Will Be "Critical" For Ukraine; Putin Evokes WWII In Vow Of Victory As Russia Strikes Intensify; House Votes To Remove Omar From Foreign Affairs Committee. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 03, 2023 - 08:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The balloon's discovery is rattling Capitol Hill. We're not learning that staff members for the Gang of Eight have received a briefing. Joining us now with all of this is our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. Jim, good morning. Wow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, a slow-moving Chinese surveillance balloon floating over the continental U.S. is understandably disturbing. My understanding is that as of last night it hadn't left U.S. airspace.

So here's what we know so far. First of all, this is an image captured from the ground. It was visible with the naked eye, flying at about 65,000 feet, about twice as high as commercial aircraft but much lower than surveillance satellites. As you were saying, going in, the size of three buses. Two flights were diverted for safety. Military leaders considered but ultimately decided against, with the president's decision, to shoot it down. But the idea that that was under conversation shows just how seriously U.S. officials and the president were taking the idea of a Chinese spy balloon floating over the U.S.

You mentioned what it was flying over.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Montana, Malmstrom Air Base. That has ICBMs there, so something that China would naturally be interested in taking a closer look at.

HARLOW: It has happened before, Jim?

SCIUTTO: It has. It has happened before over U.S. territory before. But here is something I do want to note in terms of surveillance capabilities. This was not a big jump in what China is able to see. Why is that? Because China is flying spy satellites over the U.S. every 90 minutes as they orbit the earth. And those satellites have at least equal surveillance capabilities. They are highly advanced. So in terms of what China could gather from this balloon, not an enormous step forward.

And by the way, we should note this, and this is something to be concerned about, is that China is one of the most active in terms of launching new satellites. Just look at the growth going back to just six, single digits in the 2000s, now up close to 100 per year. The only other country competing with that, frankly, is the U.S. And as you add it all up, in terms of satellites, China is second to the U.S. in terms of what they have floating above there right now. Again, all looking down at the U.S. gathering intelligence all the time.

I spoke to a number of U.S. officials last night. So this is not a big gain in terms of surveillance but it is in terms of audacity to fly a slow-moving surveillance balloon over the continental U.S. and know that the U.S., the president, you and I could see it as it's happening.

HARLOW: Yes, and just before the Secretary of State Antony Blinken goes to meet with high-ranking Chinese officials. It's certainly going to change the discussion there, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And by the way, as you know, Poppy, those decisions are not made by accident. You could consider that perhaps a message to the U.S. secretary of state as he prepares to go to Beijing.

HARLOW: Jim, thank you very much.

Joining us now for more perspective on this is the former defense secretary under former President Trump Mark Esper. Thank you so much for being here with us this morning, Mark. I guess the number one question I have is when the White House makes the decision not to shoot it down, do you agree with that decision? What kind of options do they have here?

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, first of all, I am surprised by this. I think it is a brazen act by the Chinese to do this. We were just talking about whether or not it has more or less intelligence value than what they currently have. I don't think we know. And so my interests would be not necessarily shooting it down but bringing it down so we can capture the equipment and understand exactly what they are doing. Are they taking pictures? Are they intercepting signals? What are they doing and what is the level of technical capability?

It will tell us a lot about what they are trying to do, what they're trying to learn, and what their capability is of doing that. Failing that, I would definitely shoot it down, provided that there is no risk to people on the ground.

HARLOW: So you are surprised that this is hovering over the continental U.S.?

ESPER: Absolutely. Not just the continental United States, but our missile fields and our strategic bomber bases. And so that's of great concern that they are collecting intelligence. And look, they obviously, are looking for something. They need information that I would assume they can't get through satellites. And so that's why I would be very interested in getting a hold of this, whatever the payload is, and understanding exactly what they are looking for and why.

And then of course, it gives us a good sense of their level of technological capability. The Chinese have been spying on us for year, for decades. We know, the FBI tells us that every 12 hours they open up an espionage case. To me this is a brazen act. And so at the political level we have to push back. We have to defend American sovereignty, and we have to make clear to the Chinese that we are not going to tolerate this.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Is that your sense of why it would be flying over Montana, because of that air base that maintains and operates these intercontinental ballistic missiles?

ESPER: That would be my first guess, but until we know what type of instrumentation they have in the payload, we wouldn't know for sure. There are other facilities, things we do in that part of the country. So that's why we want to get a hold of that technology and find out.


But again, that's at the intelligence level. At the political level we have to send a very strong message back that we won't tolerate this behavior. And maybe there is a counterintelligence value that we see by letting it pass overhead. There is always more to this than you know that meets the eye. I wouldn't be privy to that now. So I give the Pentagon some room here. But those are the big questions that I think people should ask, members of Congress should be asking as they dig into this further.

COLLINS: What kind of options does the U.S. have for responding, for sending the message that you think they should send?

ESPER: Well, again, first either capturing the equipment or shooting it down with be a strong message. There's obviously, it mars the country. But we should again, increase our activities as well. Recall when Speaker Pelosi visited Taiwan last summer. The Chinese ramped up their crossings of the Taiwan center line with both ships and aircraft, and I never got the sense that we responded forcefully back. You have got match the Chinese head-to-head. We can't be self-deterred and we can't let the Chinese Communist Party push us around. They will only respond to resolve, to commitment. And we need to show that when we are facing off against Beijing.

COLLINS: Mark, as we were reporting on this yesterday, we heard from the Pentagon. They say this has actually happened before during the last administration when you were defense secretary during that time period. Were you aware of this? How was it resolved? What can you tell us about is that?

ESPER: I read that. I was surprised. I don't ever recall somebody coming into my office or reading anything that the Chinese had a surveillance balloon above the United States.

COLLINS: And you would, obviously, know that if that happened when you were defense secretary?

ESPER: I would remember that, for sure. My focus was on implementing the national defense strategy to take on the Chinese as the greatest strategic threat facing our country. So I was keen on everything Chinese. We set up a red cell within the Pentagon to deal with it. We reoriented the military's doctrine in how we train and fight, all those things focused on the Chinese. So I would be curious as to why Chinese surveillance balloons were overflying the United States. So that would have caught my attention for sure. I don't recall it ever happening.

COLLINS: If you were at the Pentagon and this did happen, and the secretary of state was about to go on a trip to China, what would your advice to the secretary of state be? Would you say to cancel the trip? Would you say to make sure this is the first thing they bring up? What would your advice be?

ESPER: I suspect Secretary Pompeo shared my views as well with regard to China. And I don't know how we would have reacted. Sometimes you call off trips like this, or sometimes you go prepared to give a very, very strong statement of China violating our sovereignty. And so there are different ways to approach it, and it just depends on the broader dynamics. On the other hand, I think the Pentagon made a good move with regard to expanding our access to Philippine bases. This was something that we were working on during my term at the Pentagon as well is how do you expand U.S. access to bases in the Philippines. It's very good that we have done that because it allows us to address military -- Chinese military capabilities in case war breaks out.

COLLINS: So you think --

ESPER: -- in the Indo-Pacific.

COLLINS: Do you think Blinken should cancel his trip?

ESPER: That's an option that should be considered. But I think we need to know more. And we need to assess what is happening in the broader context. Curiously, the Chinese are not denying it, as they would typically do. They are saying, we would never violate someone's sovereignty. So the way they are playing this is quite curious as to me as well.

COLLINS: What does it say to you about the state of U.S.-China relations right now that they would take an act that you described as brazen as this?

ESPER: It's not well. The relations are not good. They have not been good for some time, in the months leading up to Xi Jinping's seizure of a third term as chairman of the party last October. But they are not getting better. He has tried to change his tact a little bit, realizing that Chinese foreign policy isn't playing well in the international community. But I don't think we should be -- I don't think we should be fooled by what they are doing. They have an aggressive plan to build a modern military over the next decade, and they stated that their aim by 2049 is to dominate the Indo-Pacific if not the global order, and change the rules and norms. And so that is their grand strategy, and we need to be cognizant of that and do everything we can to push back on this to try and change their behavior.

COLLINS: Former defense secretary Mark Esper, thank you so much. Really important perspective on this, so thank you for joining us.

ESPER: Thank you.

HARLOW: It really was a fascinating perspective.

COLLINS: And to say that he has no idea what the Pentagon is talking about that it happened --

HARLOW: On his watch.


HARLOW: Yes, it is.

Turning to the Arctic, dangerous cold blast coming from the northeast. This.



HARLOW: It is going to be a brutal weekend. Forecasters say the extreme cold could be epic. It could be once in a generation with windchills dropping to 50 below zero in some parts of New England and more than 15 million Americans under alerts.


COLLINS: And as the northwest is hunkering down for what could be the coldest temperatures in decades, how can you keep yourself and your home safe? Our next guest knows a thing or two about winterizing homes for brutal New England conditions. They transform old cabins into scenic retreats on the hit Discovery Plus show "Maine Cabin Masters".


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we have a lovely skating rink here today at the Y camp.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought we had winter beat, but unfortunately, we lost. Snow came in over the weekend, eight inches to a foot of snow. It was wet. It was heavy. And it's frozen now.


HARLOW: Joining us now are the hosts of "Maine Cabin Masters," Chase Morrill and Ryan Eldridge. They live in Augusta, Maine, where the windchill could reach as low as --

COLLINS: And they are outside!

HARLOW: Of course, they have. I love this so much.


HARLOW: Good morning. How you feeling?



MORRILL: But great.

HARLOW: OK. What do people need to do, homeowners, the biggest thing they need to do to protect their homes, because we have a cabin in northern Minnesota way up north where it gets this cold, and we are worried about the pipes bursting.

MORRILL: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, when it's this cold and you have the windchill, you are going to have drafts blowing through your house no matter what. And the biggest concern I think is frozen pipes. You've got to make sure -- cut down the draft and find ways to keep the pipes from freezing.

RYAN ELDRIDGE, HOST, "MAINE CABIN MASTERS": A couple tricks we do, find the drafts, roll up some towels, put them under there, and really minimize your time going in and out. Hunker down.


COLLINS: OK. If there are two things -- you guys need to hunker down. Take your own advice. Come on. No. I love this. I love watching you outside. It's like I'm watching Senator Klobuchar when she announced her presidential --

HARLOW: Yes, in a blizzard.

COLLINS: OK, but if you are watching this and you're worried, and you have two things nonnegotiable you must do, what are they?

MORRILL: Make sure you have enough fuel. You know, make sure your oil tank is full, you have got propane if you burn propane, your wood box is stocked just so that you can make sure you keep that constant heat going.

ELDRIDGE: And also make sure all your venting is properly cleared. Most of these exterior heating systems vent out -- they vent outside and under eaves. So snow is coming off. If you are in an area with a lot of show, you've got to constantly make sure that that's venting properly.

MORRILL: And inside as well. Make sure your heating duct vents, there's nothing is obstructing the way. If you have baseboard heat along the walls, there's nothing in front that allows the airflow through it and actually make the heat move around the building.

HARLOW: I think the first instinct is make a roaring fire inside if you've got a fireplace, but you guys say not necessarily the best idea.

MORRILL: Yes, I think when temperatures are this cold, if you have got a hot water baseboard system or a furnace, you want to make sure that that system is getting the call to produce heat so that it's not -- it's not tricking your system and not keeping your pipes or anything in the basement warm. If you have a fire roaring upstairs, it's going to show on your thermostat that it's 90 degrees but your furnace isn't going to know that.

ELDRIDGE: The basement is 20 degrees. I think that's a good point Chase makes is be aware, and even if one part of your house is warm, take the time this weekend and go check everywhere. Go down in the basement, look in the back, and just make sure everything feels right and there is nothing out of the ordinary. Don't take anything for granted.

HARLOW: Guys, please go get warm. I hope we sent you like hot chocolate or, you know, mold wine or something


MORRILL: We were begging for this. We were begging for the snow and cold weather and we got it.

HARLOW: You certainly did.

COLLINS: Chase, Ryan, thank you guys both so much.

ELDRIDGE: Thank you. Have a great day.

MORRILL: Thank you.


COLLINS: All right, you can watch Chase and Ryan, hopefully not outside freezing, on their show "Maine Cabin Masters" on Discovery Plus and HBO Max.

Also in Ukraine, CNN crews are on the front lines narrowly avoiding Russian strikes in the east. A close call, just as the CIA director says that Vladimir Putin is not serious about negotiating in a war he believes is at a crucial point.


WILLIAM BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: I think the next six months it seems to me, and it's our assessment at CIA, are going to be critical.




(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: As Putin's war in Ukraine is intensifying, the CIA Director William Burns says the next few months are going to be crucial for the outcome.


WILLIAM BURNS, DIRECTOR, CIA: I think the next six months, it seems to me, and it's our assessment at CIA, are going to be critical. Putin, I think, is betting right now that he can make time work for him. He's betting that he can grind down Ukrainians, that political fatigue is going to set in, we do not assess that Putin is serious about negotiations. The key is going to be on the battlefield in the next six months, it seems to us, puncturing Putin's hubris, making clear that he's not only not going to be able to advance further in Ukraine, but as every month goes by, he runs a greater and greater risk of losing the territory that he's illegally seized from Ukraine so far.


COLLINS: I want to bring in now the former European Affairs Director at the National Security Council, retired Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman, who is also the author of "Here, Right Matters: An American Story." Thank you so much, for joining me this morning. Good to talk to you. I wonder first of what you made of the assessment from the CIA Director?

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.), FORMER EUROPEAN AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I think that the ambassador's and director's assessment is very, very good. My question is, what are we doing to make this very critical next six months increasingly difficult for Vladimir Putin? The fact is that this next six months, the Russians are going to go in to potentially start another offensive, take more territory. The Ukrainians are going to have to blunt that attack, and then move on the offensive, and start to liberate territory. These kind of slow flows of tanks, the fact that we're providing our Abrams, and they're not going to get there for six months, is not sufficient.

Signaling those tanks coming just to release the German Leopard tanks and allow other countries to provide tanks is not -- that's exactly what happened in 2008. We signaled that we wanted Ukraine to join NATO, and all that did was precipitate Russia's increased aggression. We can't just rely on signaling, we actually have to take firm action, which is provide Ukraine the equipment it needs. That includes planes, that includes drones, that includes accelerating the pace of the delivery of these tanks. And that can be done. It's just a matter of wealth.


COLLINS: Yes, well, and you said you believe the flow of this equipment and these weapons to Ukraine is kind of resulting in this incremental escalation. You write in foreign affairs, that Western reluctance to fully support Ukraine and defeat Russia undercuts Ukraine's ability to conduct such an offensive and will likely cause the war to stretch on deep into 2023. Basically, it seems like you're saying that if they had provided more sooner, this could end sooner.

VINDMAN: That's very true, but I'm also concerned about the future. It's not just the fact that we allowed this war to stretch out many, many months more than it needs to be. It's that the next six, nine months are going to be particularly dangerous. What we're going to probably face is a increasingly erratic, Vladimir Putin, where he believes that his crown jewel, the Crimean Peninsula potentially is going to be under threat, and what actions he takes then. I don't -- I feel very confident in saying that he's not going to escalate to any nuclear options, because that would be the end of his regime. But that's the point that he starts to get -- starts to really seriously consider that option, not just threaten it, not just to use that as a means to get the West to back down, but he starts to consider the option seriously.

And if that's the biggest thing we want to avoid, this potential existential crisis, we need to make sure we don't get -- go down this road of incremental escalation. We give the Ukrainians what they need. We give them the means to threaten the Peninsula, and then force Putin to negotiate or else, like the Director of Central Intelligence said, he's not serious about it yet, he will get serious, he will absolutely get serious, when Crimea is under threat, and the Ukrainian start to liberate more territory. The sooner we get there, the less chance of incremental escalation and less risk to spill over into a confrontation with NATO.

COLLINS: You think the U.S. should send the fighter jets?

VINDMAN: I think that we should. We should be absolutely training the Ukrainians on fighter jets. If we keep saying that, it takes months and months to prepare the Ukrainians for these advanced capabilities, which it does, then we should be training them now on the prospect that they might need them six months from now. We should have been doing the tank training a long time ago.

What other -- what also disturbs me is that these systems come in without logistical support. All the support that the Ukrainians get, they get it outside of Poland. Everything else is done through what we call telemedicine, where you call up and show the Ukrainians what's broken on a screen. And then, they have to say, OK, well, when we need these parts, and it takes a long time to get systems fixed. Supporting a war from 800 kilometers away is unsustainable. We need to provide logistics. We need to make sure parts are flowing in, in order to keep these items in service.

COLLINS: Retired Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman, great perspective on this. Thank you so much.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Congresswoman Ilhan Omar vowing to continue working for the American people, just before House Republicans kicked her off the Foreign Affairs Committee.


REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): My voice will get louder and stronger. And my leadership will be celebrated around the world as it has been. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: We will be joined by one of the Republican members of the House who did vote against her sitting on that committee, next.



HARLOW: Welcome back. Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is officially off the House Foreign Affairs Committee. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy following through on his pledge to remove her for anti- semitic comments that she has apologized for. Democrats are accusing Republicans of hypocrisy, and attacking women of color, and of seeking political revenge.

Remember, Democrats removed Republican representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from their two committees a few years ago. Greene has a history of anti-semitic comments, Gosar tweeted an anime- style video of himself attacking Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez and President Biden. In 2021, 11 House Republicans joined Democrats in voting to strip Greene of her committee assignments, and one of those Republicans was New York Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis.


REP. NICOLE MALLIOTAKIS (R-NY): It hold the same standard for this side of the aisle, they do the other. Because when another colleague on my side said something about 9/11, I also voted to have her removed from the education committee because I thought that was inappropriate. This is about consistency and accountability, because we should not have an individual with those views on the committee that is tasked with representing our country, and our Congress to foreign nations.


HARLOW: Congresswoman Malliotakis joins me now. She sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. She did serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee with Congresswoman Omar, in the last Congress. Thank you for your time.


HARLOW: You have said, quote, America is safer with Representative Omar off the Foreign Affairs Committee. Can you help our viewers understand why you think that is?

MALLIOTAKIS: Well, I thought she held very dangerous views, which she shared on this committee. First and foremost, I sat on this committee when Ilhan Omar compared Israel and the United States to Hamas and the Taliban, somebody who can't differentiate between terrorist organizations and the United States of America, and our great ally, Israel is a problem on that committee. I also sat on this committee when she was saying that Venezuela, and the turmoil in Venezuela, was because of the United States of America. Instead of rightfully putting the blame on the socialism and communism of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. Another very dangerous viewpoint that, you know, quite frankly, when you're on this committee, our -- we're representing our country and our Congress to other foreign governments.

And to have someone on this committee that says those things, plus the fact that she diminished 9/11, the worst terrorist attack on our soil as some people who did something, that to me, as a New Yorker, who represents a district who lost most lives on 9/11, is very disheartening, and it makes me angry. And so, I believe that she can be on any other committee, right, but she can't be on the Foreign Affairs Committee --


MALLIOTAKIS: -- representing our nation.