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Biden Ordered Balloon Shot Down As Soon As Possible When Briefed Wednesday; U.S. Official; Train Derailment In Northeastern Ohio Sparks Massive Fire; Sixth Memphis Police Officer Fired After Nichols Fatal Beating; Two First Responders Suspended For Failing To Render Aid. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 04, 2023 - 20:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. This is a special edition of The Situation Room. And happening now we're just getting in new images. Right now the U.S. fighter jet firing a single missile to take down the Chinese spy balloon right off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Tonight, military crews are scrambling to recover the wreckage, and China is responding angrily. Meanwhile, President Biden says he and U.S. military leaders decided to wait until the balloon completed its cross country journey and was safely over water before shooting it down. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On Wednesday, when I was briefed on the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible.


BLITZER: CNN's has team coverage of this extraordinary moment in U.S.- China relations. I want to start with CNN's Oren Liebermann, he's over at the Pentagon. Oren, walk us through what happened earlier today.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was days of planning to get to this point to figure out how best to shoot this balloon down and where best to shoot this balloon down. In the end, the Department of Defense recommended waiting until this was out over water and then prevailing winds over the United States especially over the course of the past day took it out over the waters of North and South Carolina.

The critical moment there, the Air Force and US Northern Command launched F22 fighter jets out of Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia towards this aircraft, as well as a number of other support aircraft F15s as well as tankers to refuel the entire operation, according to a senior defense official.

The F 22 fired a single missile, an aim nine Sidewinder, a heat seeking short range missile that took out that jet, single shot, single kill, you can see, rather that balloon, not that jet. There's the missile on the right, the F22 on the left there that pierced the balloon. And the payload that was under it came falling down from a height of 60,000 feet to 65,000 feet, according to a senior defense official. The F22 that fired that shot was just below it at 58,000 feet, Wolf.

BLITZER: So what happens next Oren, I understand the U.S. military now has to recover what's left of the balloon and what was inside.

LIEBERMANN: Exactly. Now this goes from shooting it down to a recovery effort to see what intelligence you can gain from it. And what you can learn. The Navy and the Coast Guard already had assets in position in preparation for the recovery effort. And now that commences. The senior defense official says the wreckage is in about 47 feet of water.

So not all that deep, it could have gone much deeper, which makes it easier to recover. But it is still not an easy proposition. They'll establish a perimeter around it. Bring a Salvage Vessel as quickly as possible to the area and see what they can bring up. Keep in mind, this was a payload hanging under a balloon.

So they have to figure out what of it held together as it fell from 60,000 feet, nearly 12 miles high and crashed into the ocean below. Everything they can find, they will want to find to see what they can learn from it, an intelligence gathering operation to find out what tech the Chinese had on board that balloon.

BLITZER: We're constantly getting new information Oren so I want you to stand by. Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us. Right now, I want to go to the White House. CNN's Arlette Saenz is standing by. Arlette, first of all, what are you hearing over there right now?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Biden has been emphatic in stressing that he ordered his military leaders to shoot down this balloon as soon as possible when he discussed - had a discussion with them on Wednesday.

Now President Biden was flying on Air Force One from Syracuse, New York to Hagerstown, Maryland, as he made his way to Camp David for the weekend and as this operation was undertaken by the military, and he talked to reporters about some of the considerations that were given, as he talked to the military about making this operation become a reality.


BIDEN: On Wednesday, when I was briefed on the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday, as soon as possible. They decided without doing damage to anyone on the ground, they decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water outside, within our 12 mile limit. It successfully took it down, and I want to complement our aviators who did it, and we'll have more to report on this a little later. Thank you.

REPORTER: Mr. President, what's your message to China. REPORTER: You're saying the recommendation from your - was from your national--

BIDEN: I told them to shoot it down.

REPORTER: On Wednesday?

BIDEN: On Wednesday.

REPORTER: But the recommendation--

BIDEN: They said to me, let's wait for the safest place to do it.


SAENZ: So President Biden really tried to make clear there that he gave this order to his military team on Wednesday. Of course, they took all of those various considerations about where exactly to shoot down this balloon. There were those concerns about doing it over land, they were trying to prevent any potential risks to American lives and ultimately settling on shooting down this balloon over water.


Now this all comes as President Biden has really faced a chorus of criticism from Republicans, some mocking him, some just simply saying that his strategy in this situation has shown weakness. They have argued that he needed to take steps earlier in the process to stop this balloon from flying across the United States.

And of course, this is an incredibly tense diplomatic moment for the U.S. and China, as this situation has unfolded over the past few days.

BLITZER: And potentially, it could become even more tense. Arlette Saenz, our White House correspondent, thank you very, very much. Let's discuss what's going on right now with the former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us tonight. This is a very significant development, obviously.

As you know, there was a lot of criticism from Republicans over President Biden's handling of this this issue, but the balloon is now down. Did you think it should be shot down sooner or was this done correctly in your opinion?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Absolutely not. I think President Biden acted presidential. And I want to commend him and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the entire team, as well as our aviators for having shown the kind of restraint and responsibility that we expect our military to engage in.

And I would venture to say, if he had ordered the shoot down much earlier, and any Americans had been injured, the same people calling for him to have shut down early would be on him saying he acted recklessly. So no, he acted presidentially.

BLITZER: He clearly wanted to wait till this big balloon was over the water and all the wreckage and what was inside the balloon couldn't hurt anyone on the ground. What do you think, Mr. Secretary, was China's intended purpose in sending this huge balloon over the continent of United States?

COHEN: Well, it really is baffling. If I could paraphrase Churchill is sort of a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of a balloon. We don't know what their motivation may have been, why they would do something so obvious? Why they would do something deliberately at this time, as we're trying to, at least reengage diplomatically? So it doesn't make a lot of sense.

And that's why it was so important for us to understand what they were trying to do with this technology, and was it to intercept communications and to what end? And secondly, we could take advantage of our own capability as they're flying over.

So I think the questions will have to be, when did we know that this did not pose a significant or any military or national security threat? When did we discover that and decide for ourselves, we could wait until it got to a safer place to take it out? I think those are the kinds of questions we have to ask and have answered.

BLITZER: I'm sure the U.S. military and intelligence community will be doing a full review. Lessons learned are critically important right now. As you know, Mr. Secretary, most of the balloons, wreckage is in a relatively shallow water out there, just about 47 feet deep. Has China possibly - possibly surrendered more intelligence than it actually gained by dispatching this balloon over the U.S.?

COHEN: You know, at heart, it's really hard to know what they were doing because as we all know, the Chinese spy on us on a 24/7 basis, every day, every year. They're monitoring everything, as other nations are doing and as we are doing.

So it doesn't make sense for them to have done this, it may turn out although I'm skeptical that it was not a intelligence gathering system, because it seems unnecessary, they would do that. But in the meantime, we have to remain skeptical. I think a message has been sent to the Chinese.

The message came in the form of a sidewinder missile, taking the balloon out that we have the capability to react in any way that's in our interest to do so. So we'll have to wait for more information. And, and I think it'd be important for our Secretary of State to get back to a meeting with President Xi as soon as it's reasonably possible.

BLITZER: Because - just following up on that, after the Chinese spy balloon appeared over the United States, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken actually postponed his trip to Beijing. He was supposed to be there these days. Do you - do you agree with that decision to delay the trip?

COHEN: I do because had he gone over without knowing what we're finding out or hope to find out from the wreckage that's being retrieved as we speak, had he gone over there and just complained and chastised them as we have been doing publicly, without having the full evidence, then I think we would have been at a handicap or he would have been handicapped at that time.

We're going to get as much evidence as we can. And then we will go over there and renew our - certainly our relationship, tense as it is, and we've had these moments in the past when the bombing of the Chinese Embassy took place, when one of our aircraft was knocked down over Hainan and China by one of the jets that they threw up recklessly.


So we've had these tense moments before but the problem is we're dealing with a peer competitor or near peer competitor, and they're a nuclear power. So we have to deal with it responsibly. And that's why I say Joe Biden acted responsibly in the way he has carried out his - his presidential office.

BLITZER: Well, on that point, Mr. Secretary, are you concerned that the U.S.-China attention right now is escalating dangerously? And I asked the question because a top U.S. Air Force General just the other day was suggesting the U.S. and China could go to war, could be in conflict in the year - by the year 2025?

COHEN: Well, actually, it could happen any moment, if we don't handle the relationship, right. If we were to do something, or they do something peremptorily that we see as a threat or vice versa, we could be in a third world war with China. So nothing is inevitable until it happens. We need to be prepared to go to war with Russia, with China, with any other power that threatens us.

But nothing should be seen as inevitable. And we're always having a situation historically, where you have an existing power, the U.S. and a rising power, China, there has been conflict and most of those occasions in the past, we need to do whatever we can to prevent that because no one on the planet will win if there's ever a nuclear exchange or a competition militarily between our two countries.

BLITZER: Yes, good point, Mr. Secretary. Thank you so much for joining us, William Cohen, the former U.S. Defense Secretary.

So how difficult will it be right now to retrieve this spy balloon? We dig into the recovery efforts that are going on that's coming up. Plus, China is now publicly responding to the spy balloons destruction. What are they saying? Stay with us.




BLITZER: We're back right now with the latest of the Chinese spy balloon that was shot down today by U.S. fighter jets off the coast of South Carolina. A source tells CNN that government agencies worked through the week to try to find the right time and the right place to intercept the balloon, which had floated across the country for days.

Navy divers will assist as needed in recovering what's left of the balloon and what was inside the balloon, which is now in the Atlantic Ocean. There are also unmanned vessels that can help retrieve it. CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us with the magic wall right now. So walk us through Tom where this balloon went down, how deep it is the water where the wreckage is right now and how this recovery effort may play out.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you right away Wolf, this is the part they're interested in the payload underneath would seem to be a central core with a couple of what look like solar wings hanging from the outside. And when this thing was destroyed up here, you see that part dropping cleanly away down here toward the ground. I've been doing a lot of math on this to look at where it came from.

From over 60,000 feet, recalculating, we've been talking about terminal velocity for a skydiver being about 120 miles an hour. Let's say this weighs as much as a car, which it easily could and more. In that case, with a higher mass, the terminal velocity might be 500 miles an hour. What does that mean?

That means when it hit the water down here, really, it's the same as running into a concrete surface. Huge amount of damage would be done to it when it hit if you're imagining this whole intact at the bottom. That's not really very likely.

So recovery, although it's only in 47 feet of water, that's good, because even amateur scuba divers go that deeply. If you have a skilled team working here, this is fairly favorable, the weather is favorable. But they're going to have to start sorting through this debris.

They'll start by cataloging everything that's normal procedure, figuring out where it is, prioritizing what they want to bring up, that might give them the biggest reward for all of this, and then coming up with a scheme to actually raise it, through a series of cranes going down, maybe airlifted bags where they put them in to lift pieces up, a piece at a time, trying to keep it all in order and seeing what they can pull together out of this.

But it really is important to remember, there's a very good chance that it did go in at 500 miles an hour, 600 miles an hour. At that speed, the impact is huge. The damage is huge. There's a lot to be learned from what is left. But if you're imagining this lying at the bottom of the ocean, the way we saw it floating over the country, floating for more than 8000 miles from China, it's not going to be that way.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thank you very, very much. Right now I want to bring in Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He's a CNN military analyst, former Commanding General of the U.S. Army, Europe and Seventh Army. General, thanks so much for joining us earlier today. You said that thanks to electronic jamming, you don't think the Chinese got much intelligence from the U.S. military bases that this - this balloon was flying over. But you think they did gather valuable information on how the United States responds to a threat like this? Elaborate a little bit if you don't mind? Talk to me about that a little bit?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, certainly Wolf. In these kinds of things what you're talking about is a back and forth in terms of intelligence agencies. Now they can certainly get a lot from signals intelligence, amazing, the kind of intelligence where you're looking specifically at targets.

If those arrays that Tom was just talking about were the collection devices on that balloons, and they were jammed, or they were hindered in some way and I believe they were because the U.S. has the capability of doing that. And over a long period of tracking that can certainly be applied.

Then what the Chinese government is probably looking for is what are the techniques the United States is using, not only from the standpoint of military tracking the device, doing things like communicating about the device, they're listening in on those kinds of things, which we do to other countries they do to us, but also decision making processes, not just in the military, Wolf, but also in the government.

You know, there will probably be reporting in the next several days about the number of demarches that were issued by the United States against China, saying that this is not something that's acceptable in the international community. I'm sure that's happened more than one once knowing what goes on in embassies.


So you combined the kinds of actions I think China wants to see, how does the United States react to a balloon flying 60,000 feet above its territory across its nation. They know we're going to react militarily to it in one way or another. But they also want to see how does the government treat this?

What kind of divisions are in the government? What kind of open insults are going on toward the President and his administration? How are the people of the country feeling about what is taking place? Now the Chinese are also doing the same kind of balloon activity in South America, we don't know exactly where it is. We haven't been told that by the U.S. government.

But China also has a fleet of these kinds of balloons that they could use for this kind of intelligence collection. And to me, it just doesn't make sense when you can get intelligence from satellites, using these kinds of balloons that are visible passing over a country.

BLITZER: Even before General, the U.S. retrieves any of the debris in the Atlantic Ocean right now. What kind of things has the U.S. military actually learned about China during this event over the past few days?

HERTLING: Yes, the same thing. You know, just what I was talking about is what - what China is learning from us in terms of the way we react to something like this. We're learning a lot about how the Chinese react to this. Why are they doing things like this? How are they collecting information?

What kinds of things are they looking for? This balloon evidently had, or potentially had some type of guidance system probably propellers on a balloon that took it across this, this approach across the country that overflew several military bases, not just the ones in the, in the northwest, but also in the central part of the country and even in the south, some of the Air Force bases and even some of the army bases.

So I think they, you know, the U.S. government is looking at what China is doing, how they're doing it. Sometimes China can be very clumsy in their intelligence collection. And I'm sure there our intelligence agencies in our Department of Defense, have learned an awful lot about how China wants to collect intelligence, and where they're collecting it.

The fact that this - this particular balloon went across the United States and others have gone across Taiwan, South America and other places, I think we're establishing a profile on what China is trying to do.

BLITZER: Well, the bottom line, do you think the U.S. and China are actually moving closer to real conflict right now, as you know, a top of US Air Force General is suggesting there could actually be a conflict or war between the U.S. and China by the year 2025? And there is enormous, enormous tension right now, between the U.S. and China over Taiwan.

HERTLING: Yes, you know, the freedom of navigation exercises that the U.S. Navy and other navies have been conducting in the straits of Taiwan, the kinds of things China has been doing in terms of artificial reefs and artificial islands, the kinds of artillery and missile strikes that they have been rehearsing and practicing across the country.

Wolf, I've got to admit, I am not a Chinese expert. I have been to China several times. I know how their army works. But to me, it seems like certainly, in the last several years that tensions have been increasing between U.S. and China.

As far as the Four Star General who, who was talking to his troops and saying Be prepared for war, you know, truthfully, Wolf, I think that's been overblown a little bit. I know that there were several occasions in my career where you try and fire up your - your subordinates by saying, hey, our job is to be ready for war at any time.

I'm sure that was probably a part of the hyperbole that we're seeing in that particular Air Force Four Star who said - who told his troops to get ready for war?

BLITZER: Yes, it was pretty alarming, I must say by itself. General Hertling as usual, thank you so much for joining us. Still ahead, China's out tonight with a very strong statement after the shoot down of their balloon, saying the United States is 'overreacting.' We'll get the latest from our correspondent who's there in the region. Stay with us. This is a special edition of The Situation Room.



BLITZER: Very angry response from China today after the U.S. shut down its surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina. Let's go straight to CNN's Marc Stewart. He's joining us from Hong Kong. Mark, so tell our viewers what China had to say about this.

MARC STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed Wolf, this response from China is very strong. It is sharp. It is unforgiving. And it's coming very early on a Sunday morning here in Asia. I want to pick out some of the key phrases in its statement that I think give a pretty good narrative as to where Beijing stands.

First, under such circumstances the U.S. insists on using force, obviously overreacting and seriously violating international practice. The statement goes on to say China will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of relevant companies while reserving the right to make further necessary reactions.

And Wolf, I think it's this last phrase further necessary reactions, which is getting international attention and attention across Asia. Exactly what that means is not clear. We could get some clarity as early as Monday afternoon, early Monday morning in the U.S. when China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a regular briefing and indeed there was often a question and answer period, Wolf, where perhaps this new narrative will be discussed.

BLITZER: As you know, Marc all this is unfolding as the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was supposed to be in China right now for critical meetings. But he postponed that trip. How does all that impact? What's going on right now the postponement of the visit?

STEWART: Well, it was interesting because I was talking to an analyst about this days ago about what were the expectations for this meeting and one point that was brought up was to reestablish a diplomatic relationship that has been so frayed in recent years.

The goal would be to establish a situation where if something just like this happened, both sides would be able to quickly pick up the phone and talk to their diplomatic counterpart.


Don't want to make any kind of assumptions But that likely did not happen here. And that was going to be the sole purpose of this meeting. And then obviously, with this new escalation to have a Secretary of State shaking hands or having a photo op, with someone from a nation where there is a dispute, where there was a balloon flying in question, that would have provided some, perhaps sketchy optics.

So where this relationship goes, that's a big question. I'm sure the State Department is going to be getting. BLITZER: Yes. And the stakes clearly are enormous in terms of the U.S.-China relationship. Marc Stewart in Hong Kong for us. Thank you very, very much.

I want to bring in CNN Political and National Security Analyst David Sanger. He's the White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. David, thank you so much for joining us, China says they are, "reserving the right" and I'm quoting now, "to make further necessary reaction."

Relations between Washington and Beijing, were already pretty much string. So where do the two sides go from here? Should the Secretary of State Anthony Blakean, have gone ahead with this trip and meet with the Chinese leadership?

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Wolf, thanks for having me, on. My own view is that Secretary Blinken couldn't make this trip until they really understood what this was all about. In other words, what kind of information was being collected by the balloon.

Now on the one hand, you have to put this in perspective. There's all kinds of Chinese surveillance that goes on in the United States, much of which is more severe than this, right? For example, the Chinese at various moments have stolen the data of 22 million Americans who got security clearances from the Office of Management - Office of Public Information from the U.S.

They have us use at moments things like TikTok and other apps to go, steal the data of private citizens. They've gone into the databases of Marriott Hotel and health care groups. So many of those are more severe than what you could get from the balloon. But the balloon was such a public event, people could see this and crack it going across the country that the administration had to go respond.

And ultimately, they had to take it down, I think, just to understand what it was the Chinese were doing.

BLITZER: And try to recover the debris to see what was inside that balloon. In light of all of this David, do you think China will be surprised by the U.S. outrage and there clearly is a lot of outrage and anger over - over this incursion by China?

SANGERL You know, I think that there will be a lot of public outrage. And I'm sure the Chinese will work up a fair bit of outrage in China about the fact that it was shot down. Let's face it, if we had a balloon going over mainland China, they would have shot it down.

So you know, I don't think they can take that argument too far. I have my doubts about whether President Xi Jinping knew about this or would have wanted this happened just before Mr. Blinken was, was coming.

Since his meeting in Bali with President Biden, he's sort of been on our drive right now to improve relations with the U.S. or at least take down the temperature. He would have known that this would not have - have contributed to that. So it raises the question, Was it an accident? Or did someone in China just not get the memo and let this thing go anyway?

BLITZER: Because of course, the U.S. would obviously know, if this huge balloon was flying over the United States, the Chinese had to understand that. How do you -

SANGER: They are not the most stealthy operation you and I have ever seen. Right?

BLITZER: Yes. It's not stealthy at all. It's - it's blatant and brutal. How do you think these two superpowers David, will find a way eventually to rebuild this relationship because there's so much at stake, especially with all the tension over Taiwan right now as well?

SANGER: Well, on the one hand, we have rebuilt the relationship before after big incidence. Think about the downing of the of the P3 that - the crash that happened between a Chinese and an American intelligence aircraft in the early days of the Bush administration.

It took a while to get back the crew, and then it took even longer to get back remnants of the airplane and they came back in very small box. We managed after that to put a relationship back together. But this is a different time.

At that moment. China was not trying to show its dominance of the region. It wasn't the kind of military and technological competitor with the U.S. that it is today. The U.S. was not trying to choke off technology going to China as President Biden. has done quite effectively, just last week .


We didn't have this kind of military presence rebuilding in the Pacific that President Biden has put together? Well, I think the issues going ahead are going to be a lot more complex than the balloon. The balloon was just the most public part of it.

BLITZER: It was very public indeed. As I mentioned earlier, David, hanging over all of this is clearly the rising tension right now over about the fate of Taiwan. Does this make that situation even harder for the two sides to resolve?

SANGER: You know, I think what it does Wolf, is it shows you how difficult it would be to deescalate a Taiwan crisis. If the - if China move again, the way it did last summer, when Nancy Pelosi visited, and the way it undoubtedly will move to choke off part of access to Taiwan waterways if you see the new Speaker of the House, go visit, as he is, has said that he will be doing.

So I think what it tells you is that even things that should be diffused pretty quickly, we're having a hard time communicating about. I mean, imagine in the past couple of days, Wolf, a different scenario in which China said this was an accident, it never should have gone over there. Let us help you bring this down. Right?

So that we can end this thing peacefully, and everybody can understand it, that did not happen. And that's really what should have happened if you had much communication going on. between China and the United States. I suspect the Chinese did not want the United States to know what was inside that balloon, what kind of equipment.

David Sanger thank you very, very much. Still ahead, what's left of the China's spy balloon and what's left is now being taken to the FBI's lab in Quantico, Virginia. We'll discuss what that investigation will look like. That's next. Stay with us. This is a special edition of The Situation Room.




BLITZER: We've learned that wreckage recovered from the Chinese spy balloon downed by U.S. fighter jets today will be taken to an FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia for analysis. The senior defense official tells CNN the FBI will work with the US Defense Department and with the U.S. counter intelligence authorities.

Joining us now CNN Security Correspondent Josh Campbell. He's also a former FBI Supervisory Special Agent. Also joining us CNN National Security Analyst. Carrie Cordero. Josh, let me start with you. What do you think specifically, when the debris reaches Quantico, what will investigators be looking for?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this will be the damage assessment phase, basically trying to determine what threat to U.S. national security was there from this intelligence collection platform.

And to the extent that the intelligence apparatus of this balloon actually survived, the FBI would be trying to look at that to determine what were its capabilities. Was this the real time collection that we've heard about? Was this stored collection?

A lot of - a lot of questions there obviously. I can tell you having worked in the FBI, you know, a lot of people, when you think about the FBI Laboratory, you think about DNA analysis, firearms analysis, there's actually an entire division called the Operational Technology Division that is responsible for looking at devices, creating devices.

You know, when I was an FBI agent, and we had a problem set, a place we wanted to collect information from, we would go to these Tech Wizards and say, create us a device that can get us to where we need to go.

On the other side of that equation, you know, working overseas, whenever we would capture a device in an embassy, for example, we would take it to this team and say exploit this, tell us what this is. So it makes sense to me that this is the team that is doing that analysis.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that this will be a multiagency effort. This won't just be the FBI, but it makes sense to me why the FBI would be leading this in their location, because there's also Wolf, a public accountability aspect of this.

This is obviously a very public event that we've seen. We've already heard lawmakers calling for accountability, calling for answers. So you know, we don't often see the CIA, the NSA, other intelligence agencies out there. This will likely be the FBI if there is some type of public report to come about.

But this certainly makes sense to me that this would be the team where this analysis will be done.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. You know, Carrie, this seems like an all hands on deck operation, this investigation that's about to unfold. The FBI, the CIA, the Defense Department, and more that we don't even know about. What does that say to you? What a big deal this is emerging as?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, one of the interesting things about this whole event is that the U.S. and China are countries that conduct intelligence activities against each other. And China is a really aggressive perpetrator of intelligence activities against the United States.

This particular event happens to be out in the open. Usually, these are things that all happen behind the scenes. So when it comes to intelligence activities, these are all of the components that normally would be engaged the intelligence community, the FBI, the Defense Department, particularly its cybercom, which normally would be involved in activities that China is doing against the United States in terms of cyberspace.

So these are the agencies that normally would be part of the intelligence of back and forth that goes on. In this case, we have these physical devices that now are going to have to be analyzed.

BLITZER: Yes, they're going to take a close look at all of that. You know, Josh, clearly the Chinese are reacting very angrily to the way the U.S. took down this balloon earlier today. Talk a little bit about that. How unusual is this type of reaction coming from China right now?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what we're seeing Wolf is public posturing. I mean, it is no secret that the Chinese have been very aggressive in intelligence collection against the United States, both - both in looking at government targets as David Sanger mentioned earlier.

There was a whole issue of the Chinese government stealing 1000s of records from the US government background investigation records from U.S. government employees, which is a was a treasure trove for the Chinese intelligence services, but also looking at intellectual property from defense secrets as well.

And so for them to come out and say, Well, you know, this is violating international norms for the U.S. to take this aggressive action. I think that's a bit of posturing. I don't think anyone watching this to include the Chinese government would have qualms or concern with this following a notion and that is if this were to happen inside of Chinese territory the Chinese government would have blasted this thing out of the sky very quickly.


And I would - I would submit that, you know, based on their human rights record, they probably would not have been as circumspect, as the U.S. government was in ensuring that there weren't any potential casualties on the ground. And so again, you know, that's them coming out, saying that this was unnecessary, that the U.S. government overreacted.

But certainly if the tables were turned, and the U.S. government was flying some type of device like this over Chinese territory, which by the way, would not be surprising to see that happen as well, I would imagine that they would take even more aggressive steps than the Biden administration did.

BLITZER: There's no doubt if the U.S. had flown a huge balloon like this over China, the Chinese would have downed it right away.

CORDERO: Yes, they would have taken anything that is in a country's sovereign airspace, they are going to take action against that. But I think the - my reaction to what the Chinese are saying is that really, when we look at how the United States government has reacted to prior Chinese intelligence activities, really, it's been one of under reaction.

As Josh was describing the cyberattacks, just pervasive cyberattacks, year after year, theft of U.S. government records, stealing intellectual property from defense contractors, all of that we've used criminal prosecution as a tool. And we've used some diplomatic back and forth. But there really hasn't been any other significant U.S. national security reaction.

We now have a new committee actually, that was formed in Congress that is looking at the China threat in particular. So lawmakers have been taking the threat posed by China more seriously. But because this was in the public, it was something that Americans could see with their own eyes as it was traversing over the country.

It just has a different reaction where people see it.

BLITZER: You can see this balloon going over Montana and then continuing over Kansas and eventually heading towards South Carolina, just off the coast of Myrtle Beach. That's where it went down. Carrie, thank you very much, Josh. Thanks to you as well. We're going to have much more on the shootdown of this Chinese spy balloon.

That's coming up in a moment but first shelter in place orders for people in Northeast Ohio right now after a train derailed and sparked a massive fire. Standby for the latest. This is a special edition of The Situation Room.




BLITZER: We'll have much more of the downed Chinese spy balloon that's coming up just ahead but first, right now a massive fire is burning near the Ohio Pennsylvania border, following a train derailment that happened nearly 24 hours ago.

Evacuation and shelter in place orders are in effect for nearby residents in Northeast Ohio. No injuries have been reported but the train was hauling some 20 cars with hazardous materials, according to an NTSB official, but environmental authorities say they have not detected any harmful releases at least not yet. And they say they are no longer concerned about air quality. The cause of this huge derailment is unclear.

Let's go to Memphis right now where the police department is firing another officer after the brutal - brutal killing of Tyre Nichols. The officer is the sixth - sixth fired by the department and internal police probe determined he violated several department policies. CNN"s Nadia Romero has more.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The mayor of Memphis announcing there will be a federal investigation by at least two agencies including the Department of Justice to look into the city's police department and this is something that the family of Tyre Nichols and local activists have been asking for, an independent investigation.

The mayor announcing just on Friday that that will now happen. Let's get you up to date on the police officers situation. Those officers who were on scene, we now have an additional, a sixth police officer who has been fired. This officer Hemphill, former officer now was one of the first to arrive on scene, tried to tase Tyre Nichols, we can see in the video.

Was heard saying something like I hope they stomp him. And so that officer has been fired. And you can take a look here at a long list of alleged policy violations, violations of the Memphis City Police Department's policies including personal conduct, truthfulness, compliance issues here and truthfulness is an important one because we know that the original police statements do not match what we saw in the video and that has come into question time and time again.

Now we did hear from the attorney representing former officer Hemphill who says that he will cooperate with all of the investigations into the death of Tyre Nichols. I want you to take a look at the five other police officers who have already been fired and indicted. They've been charged several charges here including a murder charge and an assault charge among many others in connection with Tyre Nichols' death.

And now we have two EMTs who have been fired and have their licenses suspended. The allegation is that they waited some 19 minutes before administering some of the most basic aid or care tonight - to Tyre Nichols and we know that he died just days later.

I want you to hear from his grandmother, the grandmother of Tyre Nichols and her message to the police officers who were involved.


JOHNNIE LARAY HONEYCUTT, TYRE NICHOLS GRANDMOTHER: My baby was a skateboarder. He worked in FedEx. He had the best mother and stepfather in the world. Why would you want to do that to him?


ROMERO: Now the district attorney's office says there could be more charges coming. We also know that there is some 20 hours of video footage that could be released as well. Nadia Romero, CNN Atlanta.

BLITZER: Nadia, thank you very much. Meanwhile, parts of northeastern, the northeastern United States finally warming up at least slightly after record breaking freezing temperatures, the coldest in decades in some areas here in the United States. Less than a million people now under wind chill advisories.

That's down from as many as 20 million earlier today. The once in a generation cold producing some stunning images. This video out of Vermont shows a miniature whirlwind known as the steam devil forming over Lake Champlain, yesterday.


And take a look at these images out of New Hampshire. The Windchill there likely setting a new national record and an incredible get this, minus, minus 108 degrees Fahrenheit.

And it was a big night also, in other news were covering in the NBA for LeBron James, but he still finished just a bit short of a huge record. Lakers Star LeBron James finished with 27 points in tonight's game against the Pelicans and that leaves the 38-year old, just 36 points away from breaking the NBA all-time scoring record.

The record will remain in the hands of the legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for a couple more days at least. The next chance for James to break the record is Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder will watch. Still ahead more on tonight's top story, the U.S. shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon and the ongoing efforts to recover what's left of it for analysis.

We're live here in Washington DC. We're live at the Pentagon and in Asia. This is a special edition of The Situation Room.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. This is a special edition of The Situation Room.