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Olympic Toothpaste Terror Warning; Interview With Mitt Romney and Rep. Peter King of New York; New Terror Threats to Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia

Aired February 05, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much.

We're continuing to follow the breaking news.

Happening now, the United States warning airlines flying to Russia of a possible terror threat involving explosives hidden in toothpaste tubes. There are new details just coming in. Stand by.

Mitt Romney, he is here live in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour. After running the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games, is he worried about the safety of Americans in Sochi?

And does he really mean no, no, no when he says he won't run again in 2016?

I'll go one-on-one with him live this hour.

And is this what it's like when hell freezes over?

Across half the country, more than 120 million people are battling ice, snow and bitter cold. Millions right now without power. Thousands of flights already have been grounded. We have full team coverage.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We've got breaking news we're following -- word of a possible new terror threat only hours before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The United States is advising airlines with direct flights to Russia to be aware of toothpaste or cosmetic tubes that could be concealing explosive materials.

Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is standing by in Sochi.

First, let's get the very latest from our justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

He's on the story here in Washington -- Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a very big alert that just went out to airlines that are flying into Russia. Now, this is not something that they're concerned about being directed here in the US. But as you mentioned, the Olympics getting underway on Friday. They're very concerned about airliners that are flying into Russia. And the concern is about the possibility of explosives being hidden inside toothpaste tubes and cosmetic tubes, and about whether or not that could be used to detonate a bomb on board airliners.

Now this is obviously something that has been a concern with law enforcement and with airline security experts for some time. As you know, we -- every time we travel, we now have to put our liquids into small containers before we put them on board. But this is a very extraordinary thing to be issuing this very big alert right ahead of the Olympics.

Now, DHS sent us a statement that they wanted us to be aware of. They said, "Out of an abundance of caution, DHS regularly shares relevant information with domestic and international partners, including those associated with international events such as the Sochi Olympics. Our security apparatus includes a number of measures, both seen and unseen, and DHS will continue to adjust security measures to fit an evolving threat environment" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Evan, stand by.

I want to go right to Sochi right now.

Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground for us.

I assume they're very familiar with these threats, Russian security source over there, having received this information from the United States.

Set the scene for us.

What's going on?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's quite possible the information came to the United States from the Russians. I mean they put in advance here a clear ban on all liquids in hand luggage inside planes. To fly here, you can't even take those 100 milliliters, which obviously plague many frequent travelers lives at the moment.

The Russians have a long history with this, Wolf.

Back in 2004, before the Beslan school hostage crisis that killed 300 people, two planes were blown out of the sky 10 days before that, almost simultaneously, by two female suicide bombers. Now, nobody quite knew how those blasts occurred, but a lot of speculation at the time was that explosives were brought on, perhaps in a large tub of face cream.

Now, that was before those 100 milliliter restrictions were brought in. That was more linked to a threat emanating out of London. But certainly after both blasts, the Russians brought in those full body scanners that many now complain about as an invasion of privacy in other parts of the world. But they were appearing in Russian airports very quickly after that.

So there's a decade of perhaps looking at this here. I know some suggestions are that perhaps toothpaste tubes be used to transport the explosives into this part of the world, down in Sochi. I find that highly unlikely, given how frequently it is to find explosives in this particular part of the world, in Southern Russia. Much more likely that they're worried about that, they're worried about something occurring actually on the plane itself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, walk us through what it was like. You -- I assume you flew into Sochi from Moscow.

What was it like?

PATON WALSH: Well, I mean, much like any other flight. Of course, you know, you ask what the restrictions are, they give you advice. But there's one clear change -- no liquids at all, not even duty-free. And that's a very blanket ban.

Not, I have to confess, in one separate instance, a colleague of ours flying down recently did appear to be able to get some liquids on the plane. So it's not entirely clear how hermetically tight that ban necessarily is.

But you're supposed to put all your liquids in the hand luggage. That clearly is because, I think, perhaps, the Russians are aware of this threat maybe, or deeply concerned about the experiences they had (INAUDIBLE) 10 years ago could be repeated or perhaps, to repeat the words we heard in the Department of Homeland Security's statement, that this is out on abundance of caution. Maybe Moscow has their own version of that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Nick, because Barbara Starr is getting some information over at the Pentagon, as well -- Barbara, a lot of are very familiar with other efforts to try to blow up a plane, including the so-called underwear bomber.

What are you hearing?


I mean what the U.S. government will be doing now, clearly, is looking at known bomb makers, where are they, where have they been, what training and capability might they have spread to these elements in Southern Russia.

It is al Qaeda in Yemen that there are bomb makers there that have considerable expertise in this very issue of putting hard to detect explosives into devices.

We saw it in 2009 with the attempt of the so-called underwear bomber to bring down a U.S. plane on Christmas over the United States. We saw it with that plot, the same bomb making circles, to put explosives inside printer cartridges. There, you know, is a lot of this information available on Jihadist Web sites, in chat rooms. This is the kind of bomb making information that has truly spread across these jihadists and fundamentalist circles, no question about it.

And what's so interesting, Wolf, it was just yesterday the head of U.S. counterterrorism, Matthew Olsen, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, said that the U.S. was investigating a number of specific threats of varying credibility, he said, and working with the Russians to disrupt them.

So it's a clear signal that there is, you know, behind the scenes, there is a lot of cooperation, at this point, in information between the Russians and the US.

The U.S. view so far has been that they believe the venues, the Olympic venues are so heavily guarded by the Russians right now, they will be safe. It's been this concern about outside of the venues. You know, we've talked about it, the so-called soft targets -- restaurants, shops, railroads, transportation, these outside of Sochi, outside of the venues. These are the vulnerable areas. And this warning today goes right to that point.

BLITZER: And briefly remind us, Barbara, the U.S. military has deployed equipment, hardware, troops, in the area in case of an emergency.

STARR: Well, they have, Wolf. There are two U.S. Navy warships in the Black Sea now. But we are being cautioned that that is really a just in case kind of measure. The military is very strongly making the point, it will be the State Department that would be working with the Russians directly, if there is an attack, if there is a crisis.

But the U.S. military also is going to put a number of transport aircraft on standby in Germany, hopefully not to be used, but to, indeed, be available to evacuate a large number of Americans out of Russia if it came to that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, stand by.

I want to go back to Sochi.

Nick Paton Walsh is our man on the scene -- Nick, were folks there, athletes, tourists, spectators, locals, are they nervous right now about a potential terror attack?

PATON WALSH: An interesting thing at the airport this afternoon, Wolf. We saw the Austrian ice hockey team, big guys, probably not scared of much. But their own two female athletes received that letter yesterday threatening them of kidnap.

Now, they were relaxed. But one of them did say, interestingly, that they were going to take a decision as a group if they were going to leave the Olympic village during the time they're around. I think that's really where the point the decision comes for so many people visiting here.

It's pretty clear that inside that ring of steel, it's going to take quite a lot of effort to harm anybody at all. But it's when you start moving out from that area into Wida Adlo (ph), which is the town where the Olympic venue actually is, perhaps even to the town of Sochi itself, that's where the dragnet softens. That's where the problems arise.

And, you know, to talk about, also, the kind of device people might be concerned about here, I mean the sophistication of the bomb makers in this part of the world has increased significantly. I remember seeing videos of insurgents about eight years ago where they were making huge bombs out of mushroom (ph) fertilizer in paint tubs.

That has since changed. The more recent videos you see involve quite small, sophisticated suicide belts, which security service videos show them destroying when they're found.

So so there is sophistication here, certainly. And one of the more recent bomb makers named by the security services is, in fact, an ethic Russian who's thought to have some sort of military training capable of building quite sophisticated devices.

So I'm sure there's a lot of concern within Russian security circles about the kind of device they could be facing. Perhaps, that's where this toothpaste and cosmetic tube warning stems from.

As I mentioned earlier, a long history here of devices on aircraft like that. And perhaps the Russians having their own abundance of caution here. If that, it turns out to be that they were the source of this American warning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and in recent months, I've been told repeatedly that some of these terrorist bomb makers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, learning new techniques all of the time.

Nick, don't go too far away.

We're going to stay on top of the breaking news out of Russia right now.

We'll also speak about that, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, he knows a lot about Olympic Games. He ran the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

What does he think about this latest threat coming to Sochi?

We'll have that.

He's standing by live in Salt Lake right now.

Much more of the breaking news and Mitt Romney right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News. BLITZER: We're continuing to follow the breaking news. Word of a possible new terror threat only hours before the start of the winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The United States is advising all airlines with direct flights to Russia to be aware of their described as toothpaste or cosmetic tubes that could potentially be concealing explosive materials.

Mitt Romney was the chief executive of the winter Olympic Games called in to save the Salt Lake City games back in 2002. He's joining us now, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. Governor, thanks very much for coming in. I want to get right to the breaking news. You know a lot about winter Olympic Games. You know about these potential terror threats.

When you hear it, this report, that the U.S. is advising airlines, passengers, be on the lookout potentially for toothpaste containing explosive material, what do you think?

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER CEO, SALT LAKE CITY OLYMPICS: Well, of course, you begin by saying it's a real grave concern to hear a report of this nature and you basically want to know more. It cries out for saying give me more information, because in a setting like this, what is an airline to do or what is the TSA to do or a passenger to do with regards to toothpaste?

Are we going to put in place immediately restrictions on any kind of tubes or any kind of cosmetics going in flights towards Russia? But as individuals, as airlines, people are concerned given the specificity of the nature of this threat, and the fact that there's almost nothing they can do to prevent something of this nature from, perhaps, being put onto an aircraft. So, it's a great concern and we're asking for a lot more information.

BLITZER: Well, you did -- you organized -- you came in to help organize and you really did rescue those winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002. That was after 9/11. I assume you were deeply concerned potentially about security threats at that time. What advice -- I mean, it's very late in the game right now where only a day or two away from the Friday night opening ceremonies, but what advice would you give the Russians?

ROMNEY: Well, I think we can see right now that the key to any kind of security for a major event like an Olympics is intelligence work. And the fact there has been the kind of uncovering of specific threats that you've seen indicates that the Russians and other of their friends or if they're collaborators trying to stop terrorism, have come together and have identified threats, that's a good sign.

You also see by virtue of the hardened area they put around the venues and around specific transportation hubs and so forth that they've made a very major investment to secure the games themselves and the athletes and spectators. I mean, I believe the games will be safe, but we're in a very different setting in Sochi than we were in Salt Lake City. Sochi's a very dangerous neighborhood.

And there are people who have relatively easy access to a place like Sochi that didn't have easy access to a place like Salt Lake. And so, what we did was extraordinarily intensively focused on intelligence work to see who was coming into the city, where they were, who might represent a threat. That's very difficult to do in a city like Sochi.

But I certainly hope and base on what I've read, the Russians have used every possible effort to make sure that that sort of work is being done.

BLITZER: Would you go? Would you be willing to go or let your family members go to Sochi at this late date?

ROMNEY: The answer to that is yes. I'm not going to be able to make it to Sochi myself given my calendar, but I believe the games will be safe. I would feel most confident in the hardened venues, if you will, the places where athletes are competing, the Olympic village, Olympic hotels, and the official Olympic transportation system I believe will be so substantially guarded that those areas will be safe.

But of course, even there, there's no such thing as a 100 percent guarantee. But nonetheless, you can't walk through life fearing the buildings are going to fall on you or that terrorism is going to strike at any moment. In my view, the games and the specific hardened areas should have the safety that people expect.

BLITZER: Was it a mistake, and all of us are a lot smarter with hindsight, six, seven years ago when they announced that Sochi would be the site of these winter Olympics Games? Was that a mistake that the international Olympic committee made?

ROMNEY: Well, I think the International Olympic Committee is going to have to weigh where the games are, what kind of threats might be in the neighborhood, the capacity of a nation financially to support the games. Russia, obviously, has that capability. It has the intelligence network. It has the law enforcement personnel necessary to secure the games.

But I think a country itself as it's thinking about its bid is likewise going to have to think about what kinds of threats might be posed and what kind of security issues could be brought in to bear. I guess, I'm really disturbed that an event which is a global event, which is for young people, athletes who've trained for years and years and years, that that could become the target of terrorist effort.

I find that very disturbing, and I do believe that terrorists or others who think it's a big stage they can be seen on don't recognize it will not make them any friends and that the world sees both the threats as well as the actual activity that might occur at a setting like this. The world would see this in the most negative light and would have extraordinarily dire consequences for those that are carrying out these kinds of threats or making those kinds of threats.

BLITZER: Stand by far moment, governor. We have a lot more to discuss, but Representative Peter King of the House Homeland Security Committee, he's chairman of the subcommittee on terrorism and intelligence, he's getting briefed on what is going on. Representative King, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: We're all disturbed, worried about toothpaste containers or cosmetics containers potentially carrying explosives going to Sochi right now, this, on the eve of the winter Olympic Games. I know you've been briefed on this. What's going on?

KING: Wolf, I can't go into details as to what I was briefed on. I would just say this is the type of threat, though, that we're very concerned about. Americans should take it very seriously. The airlines should take it seriously. Obviously, the people at the Olympics should take it seriously. But this is the type of threat that is very concerning to us.

I can't go into the detail, but I can tell you that our intelligence people are working on issues such as this around the clock and also working with other partners around the world.

BLITZER: You have confidence in what the Russians are doing?

KING: I have some confidence in what the Russians are doing but really not enough because they are not sharing enough intelligence or virtually any intelligence with us as to what's happening within Russia. They're afraid that somehow we will use that to our advantage. We are getting some information about what's happening outside of Russia, some external threats, that type thing, or potential threats.

I don't want to overstate that. But we have a very close relationship with our allies other than the Russians, but the Russians, for instance, are cooperating nowhere nearly as much as the British did, the Chinese did, the Greeks did. So, it's not near that level of cooperation, no.

BLITZER: Let's say there's a toothpaste -- a container of toothpaste and it has explosives in it. What kind of damage could that do to a plane?

KING: Well, any type of explosive, concealed explosive, can be extremely damaging. It could be enough to bring a plane down. But again, any type of explosive on a plane is of great concern to us.

BLITZER: So, I guess, the key question, are the athletes safe right now, the American spectator, the family members, the fans, all of the guests who are going to Sochi in the next -- are they safe?

KING: I would say that they are reasonably safe, but I would not go myself. If I'm an athlete, that's one thing. But just as a spectator, I don't think it's worth the risk. I mean, odds are nothing is going to happen, but the odds are higher than for any other Olympics I believe that something could happen.

And, you know, the Olympic site itself probably is locked down pretty well. There is that ring of steel right around the Olympics, itself. But getting there and the surrounding areas, I would say there's real cause for concern.

BLITZER: Yes. I was disturbed the other day the chairman of your committee, Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he wouldn't go. He wouldn't want his family members to go. So, he's obviously been briefed on what's going on, so as have you. Congressman Peter King, thanks very much for joining us.

KING: Wolf, thank you. Say hello to the governor for me.

BLITZER: I will. In fact, the governor is standing by. We're going to continue our conversation with Mitt Romney, there he is, in Salt Lake City. We have lot more questions for him. We'll take a quick break. We'll continue to follow, update you on the breaking news out of Sochi, Russia. Much more right after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: And the breaking news is the United States is advising all airlines flying to Sochi to be especially concerned about the potential for explosives being hidden in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes as the folks are arriving over the next day or two in Sochi. The winter Olympic Games. The opening ceremony is Friday. We're less than 48 hours away from that.

Mitt Romney who was in charge of the winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City back in 2002, the Republican presidential nominee, is still with us. It seems to me, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, Governor Romney, based on what we just heard from Peter King of the House Homeland Security Committee, it looks like this could be the most serious terror threat of any summer or winter Olympic games on record.

ROMNEY: Well, in terms of a pre-warned threat, yes, I think you're right, based on what we're hearing from Representative King. It calls into question the Russians' willingness to share information and to give us the kind of specificity or the kind of weighing of credibility that normally would be associated with threats of this nature. According to Representative King, that just hasn't been forthcoming and that obviously is very concerning.

If, in fact, this story, is one and this threat is a credible threat, you would ask yourself why you wouldn't insist that any flights going into Sochi or the region would prohibit any kind of tubes of toothpaste or anything else, gel, liquids, and so forth, to make sure that this threat couldn't possibly be carried out.

BLITZER: And remember, the Boston marathon bombers were from Dagestan, which is not far away at all from Sochi. This is a very troubled region to begin with, which makes a lot of us wonder what were they thinking when they decided to put the winter Olympic Games in Sochi, what, seven years or so ago.

When I say this was the may -- maybe the worst pre-Game, pre-Olympic Game threat, we all remember what happened in 1972 at the Munich Summer Olympic Games, when 11 Israeli athletes were kidnapped and then killed in that botched rescue operation.

Bottom line right now, based on what you know, you still think it's OK for Americans to go?

ROMNEY: The answer is for those of us who -- who love the Olympics and -- and love the experience and want to see the athletes compete, it's something I would feel safe in doing, I'd take my family to do.

At the same time, I think given the specificity of the threats and the degree of danger in the neighborhood, you're going to be a little concerned. And the fact that these new revelations are coming forward now, with regards to specific threats on the -- on the toothpaste source, why, that gives you some real concern. I -- I don't think there's any way around that.

And I do understand why someone like Congressman King says he wouldn't go, he wouldn't take his family there.

But, frankly, you know, given my love of Olympic sport and the -- and the athletes, I would do that if my schedule allowed it.

BLITZER: You know, I remember vividly -- it's almost two years ago, March, 2012, you and I sat down for an interview. And we spoke about U.S.-Russian relations. And -- and at the time, you get a lot of grief for suggesting that, in your opinion at that time, Russia -- and you -- you called Russia our number one geopolitical foe, as you well recall. You know, the -- the whole relationship with Putin right now, give us your sense, those comments then, a lot of people probably think you may be right -- you may have been right, even though you were criticized pretty severely at the time.

Give us your sense on this U.S.-Russian relationship, specifically with Putin.

ROMNEY: Well, I don't think there's any question but that -- that Russia, under Putin's leadership, has been our political adversary on the world stage and -- and has tried to block the kind of tough sanctions we thought were essential early on in Iran. They finally made some concessions on that front.

The -- the nuclear deal they worked out is one very one-sided, in my view, toward Russia. Of course, harboring Edward Snowden is, in my view, a -- a calculated effort to stick America in the eye. And right now, they're -- they're standing arm in arm with Assad in Syria, that most of the world is -- is wishing he'd go away.

I mean this -- Russia is a -- is not our best friend in terms of -- of the politics on the world stage. And -- and for that reason, among others, I think we have to recognize that we have not a military foe, not an enemy, but a nation that seems intent on pushing back against the United States and opposing us in -- whether it's the United Nations or in other places in the world where there is conflict.

And, but at this stage, given the fact they have the Olympics and given the fact that we have athletes and spectators there, we'd hoped they put those kinds of political issues aside and collaborate entirely and fully so we can understand the extent of this threat and we can take corrective action as necessary.

BLITZER: We're going to get back to the breaking news in a few moments.

We've got more guests coming up. Our reporters are on the scene. We're going back to Sochi.

But while I have you, Governor Romney, a few political questions, because it's been on the minds of a lot of folks over the past few weeks.

Would you consider running for president a third time in 2016?

ROMNEY: No, I've answered that question a number of times, as you know. And the answer is no. I'm not running for president in 2016. It's a -- it's a time for someone else to take that -- that responsibility. And I'll be supporting our nominee. And there are some very good people who are taking a very good look at that race.

BLITZER: A lot of people are wondering, maybe you might change your mind. Look at some of these recent polls in New Hampshire. These are Republicans. A poll came out, who would be your choice for the 2016 Republican presidential nominee?

Romney, 25 percent; Rand Paul, 18; Chris Christie, 17; Jeb Bush, 13; Ted Cruz, 7 percent. And then there was a poll that came out in -- a little bit earlier in November and -- and this was a "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, registered voters nationwide, "If the election were today" -- this was a year after the election -- "who would you vote for?"

Obama, 45 percent; Romney, 49 percent.

So you see those numbers. You see some of the folks out there in the Republican Party saying, well, Mitt Romney, maybe you should reconsider.

What say you?

ROMNEY: Well, I appreciate the compliment.


ROMNEY: It's better than a kick in the teeth. At the same time, I'm absolutely convinced that there are other people who would have a better chance of becoming the nominee, of becoming the next president of the United States, better than -- than I would have. I've had my turn. I gave it two good shots, didn't win. And now it's time for someone else to do it.

So I'm not running for president, Wolf. I -- I've, you know, made that -- that clear from, I think, the morning after the last loss.

BLITZER: The other reason I'm old enough to remember and so are you, Ronald Reagan tried three times. He got it on the third. The third time was a charm for Ronald Reagan. So, you know, you -- this is America. You can always change your mind if you want.

So if it's not going to be you on the Republican side, who do you want to be the Republican nominee?

ROMNEY: Well, I don't intend to -- to support somebody until they've actually gone through the process and -- and right now, we've got a very full group of people -- Marco Rubio; Jeb Bush; Chris Christie; Rand Paul; Paul Ryan, of course, my running mate, an extraordinary man; John Kasich, governor of Ohio, doing a great job there; Scott Walker in Wisconsin. We've got a lot of very good people. Susana Martinez in -- in New Mexico, I understand, is potentially looking at the race. I mean I -- I read that in the blogs.

So I don't know how it's going to settle down. I didn't mention Mike Huckabee. Of course, Mike Huckabee ran before, did a fine job. He may be coming back and giving it another shot.

So, you know, we'll let it settle down a bit and then finally coalesce behind the person who we think ought to be the next president.

BLITZER: Well, the last time you had to make a decision like this and you vetted a whole bunch of Republicans, you thought Paul Ryan, after you, was most qualified to be president of the United States.

You still believe that?

ROMNEY: Well, I think Paul Ryan was the absolute right person for me to have as the vice president. And I say that because I was a governor. I had not had the kind of experience in Washington to know who I could trust there, who would get the job done, how the budget process would work most effectively. And -- and Paul is not only a man of character and courage and vision, he's also a person of great experience.

And that Washington experience, combined with my experience leading as a governor, I thought, was a good combination.

But in terms of who's the best person to be our nominee, I'm going to wait to make that decision a little later.

BLITZER: Do you believe Governor Chris Christie is telling us the truth?

ROMNEY: Oh, I sure do. Chris is a -- is a friend of mine. Chris is a straightforward guy. When he tells you something, you can count on it. And I'm counting on Chris and -- and believe that he -- if he decides to get into national politics, he'll do very well, indeed.

BLITZER: If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, in your opinion, who is most qualified to beat her?

ROMNEY: Well, if I -- if I knew the answer to that specifically, then I'd tell you who I'd want to see as our nominee, because I -- I care for the people who share my views, let's say, 80 percent of the time, as Ronald Reagan used to say. Some probably share them 90 percent, some 80 percent. But just as important to me is who is it that would be the most effective in -- in carrying forward our message and being able to win back the White House and put a stop to ObamaCare and the job losses it's causing, get the economy going again, put people back to work, fix our schools, help people come out of poverty.

There's a lot to be done. This president hasn't done. And that's why I think it's time for a real change in Washington.

BLITZER: All right, Mitt Romney telling us he's not going to run once again. But as I said, this is America. People can change their minds. You remember Barack Obama said he wasn't going to run and he decided to run.

We'll see what happens.

And Governor, thanks so much, as usual, for joining us.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf.

Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Governor Mitt Romney joining us.

We're going to get back to the breaking news out of Sochi right now. The United States informing all airlines flying to the Winter Olympic Games right now, be on the lookout for toothpaste or cosmetic tubes that may -- repeat, may -- contain explosives.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Following the breaking news. Yet another new terror threat on this, the eve of the Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. The United States is advising airlines with direct flights to Russia to be aware of toothpaste or cosmetic tubes that could be concealing explosive materials.

Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is joining us once again. He's live in Sochi. Nick, we just heard here in THE SITUATION ROOM from Congressman Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence and counterterrorism, that he wouldn't necessarily be ready to go to Sochi, wouldn't want his family members to go to Sochi. He thinks it's dangerous where you are right now. And I know athletes and fans and spectators are arriving even as we speak. Are they ready in Sochi for the start of these Games?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Security- wise, from what we've seen since being here, there's no real threat obvious to you. There is a significant military and police presence here. In fact, some observers say it's even more discreet than they necessarily expected. We haven't felt under threat here at all.

But we are of course obviously aware of the issues across southern Russia. We've just come back from Dagestan, the hotbed of the insurgency. So, that's the real question, not so much whether this nugget of land behind me on the coast is going to be well protected. It's whether or not the things outside of that could possibly spill over or simply soft targets there actually get hit instead. That's the major concern.

And I think when you hear high-profile American politicians say it wouldn't be safe for them or their family ignite a debate and certainly makes those on the fence wonder whether or not, frankly, it's worth the risk.

This is meant to be a time of pleasure, two weeks of joy, even sporting harmony here. So, yes, I mean, obviously the question will be emerging now for those yet to get on the plane whether it was a good idea after all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They described the security measures in and around Sochi rings of steel, as they say layer after layer, going through, I guess, metal detectors, magnetometers. Set the scene. Tell us what's going on. If you want to go, for example, from where you are to one of the venues where some of the games are going to be played, whether hockey or skiing or whatever, what do you need to do, what do you need to have?

WALSH: You have to have a variety of different passes, Wolf. Now these are things which require a degree of biometric information, you put them into a machine, they beep, and then you can walk through various turnstiles.

The ones we have for media, they have limits. There's only a certain amount you can go and we can't take cameras in other areas as well.

The cars, that's a whole different world of complication and headaches. You need special Ministry of the Interior passes to get on some roads. And on top of that, you need extra -- Olympic accreditation to take cars in other areas, too.

We tried to get near some of the accommodation for athletes and our pass wasn't good enough for that today. So the problem really is when you look at this scene behind me, the way you describe it, you make it sound like organized concentric rings of an onion, almost. You don't get that feeling when you're traveling around that it seems complicated, possibly ramshackle.

I'm sure maybe that's the design put in place to make whoever might try and infiltrate it even more confused but it's confusing, people simply trying to work out where they can and can't go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh in Sochi, we'll get back to you. Stand by.

Also coming up, we're going to have much more on the terror threats, the horror stories coming out of the Winter Olympic Games. A SITUATION ROOM special report, "Trouble in Sochi." That will begin at the top of the hour 6:00 p.m. Eastern only, only here on CNN.

We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Word of a possible new terror threat just hours before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The United States advising all airlines with direct flights to Russia to be aware of toothpaste or cosmetic tubes that could be concealing explosive materials.

Let's bring in CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI, he's joining us from Denver right now.

What do you make of this latest warning, be worried potentially about toothpaste or cosmetic tubes on planes?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, I think this is just another one of the many possible threats that everybody's had to be worried about. It's almost like a reminder of threats over the past 12, 13 years of different liquids or aerosols or contact lens solution, shaving cream that could be brought on an aircraft and have an explosive hidden in the container, if you will.

So this case, though, my understanding is that the warning that U.S. intelligence has given to the Russians about this threat is not just carry-on luggage, but anybody even in checked luggage -- and again it's not only the threat to the aircraft, but the possible threat that somebody could bring this material into Sochi and use it or combine several people's tubes of toothpaste to create an explosive device in Sochi and use it during the Olympics, you know, and possibly a soft target but still use it.

BLITZER: We have been hearing and I know you have as well that some of these terrorist bombmakers are getting more sophisticated. Would they be able to create some sort of toothpaste tube or cosmetic tube with an explosive device inside that could -- that would be -- wouldn't be detected going through metal detectors?

FUENTES: Yes. They've been able to do that with other containers and we've known about plots. There have been plots where aircraft were warned or authorities were warned to check for liquids in the case of shaving cream or contact lens solution or baby formula, to watch for that as possibly being contained or having explosive material in it.

So this is not the first time. It's nothing original or new. It's just that it's one more reminder that the U.S. is providing to the Russians to beware of this one as well.

BLITZER: Well, what do you do in the case of checked luggage? And I say there's toothpaste in your checked luggage and it's the belly of the plane, how do you -- how do you prevent an explosion, if you will, from occurring?

FUENTES: Well, I don't know that you -- that they're again worried about the explosion as much on the aircraft because they would have to have -- you know, have it set up with detonators and everything to do that. But the only way to prevent bad things from getting on an aircraft is to search everything that goes on that aircraft. And that's not always been done.

Obviously the carry-on luggage and the passenger and crew themselves, but if you have materials that are hidden in checked luggage, especially if they look like everyday material, like a tube of toothpaste, it's going to be very difficult unless you just physically search by hand every piece of luggage going on that aircraft and every package.

The other -- the other issue with that is that you have people that have already arrived in Sochi and have been there now for a while. The media, obviously, is already there setting up their equipment to film or cover the Olympic Games. Obviously, CNN, Nick Paton Walsh has been there for some time.

So people are already there. So if a sudden warning goes out to also check the check-in luggage, you know, it could be too late for that as well.

And I think something else that people need to realize is that this has turned into a war of words. Almost a trash talking like in the National Football League only with life and death circumstance where Putin is saying, we've got the ring of steel. You're not going to get in here. And the terrorists since last July are saying, yes, we are, we are going to penetrate. And they've had seven years to prepare and hide materials in Sochi before that ring of steel was ever erected. So there's a lot going on here, and it's --

BLITZER: All right.

FUENTES: It's a very dangerous situation.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Tom Fuentes, thanks very much.

Coming up, it's only a matter of hours before the Winter Olympic Games get under way in Russia, but between the new terror threats, the hotel horror stories, serious questions about the safety of the various athletic sites.

We're going to break it all down. All the news coming out of Russia. A SITUATION ROOM special report "Trouble in Sochi" that starts right at the top of the hour.