Return to Transcripts main page


ISIS Releases Photo of Device Used to Bring Down Russian Jetliner; America Divided on Taking Syrian Refugees; The 2016 Campaign Turns To National Security; Christie: Obama Created The Syrian Refugee Crisis. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 18, 2015 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live in Paris.

We are following breaking news, ISIS now claiming it can show how the terrorist group brought down that Russian passenger airliner last month. The crash in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula killed 224 innocent people, including 25 children.

I want to bring in CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, apparently, ISIS has released a new photo. Is it considered credible?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I have spoken to several former ATF agents with expertise in explosives. And what I'm hearing over and over again is, yes, this could be the components of an explosive device.

But when asked if this could be the actual device that brought down the passenger plane, there is a healthy dose of skepticism. Despite that, ISIS is holding up this new photo as proof they downed Metrojet 9268.


MARSH (voice-over): This is the bomb ISIS claims they used to bring down the Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula. The picture posted in an ISIS propaganda magazine shows what appears to be explosive material concealed in a soda can, along with wires and a detonator with an on-and-off switch.

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the photo. The article says ISIS -- quote -- "discovered a way to compromise the security at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport where Metrojet departed" and a -- quote -- "bomb" was smuggled on to the airplane.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will search for them everywhere wherever they are hiding.

MARSH: The news comes one day after Russia's President Vladimir Putin said nearly two pounds of explosive material blew the passenger plane out of the sky.

ANTHONY MAY, FORMER ATF EXPLOSIVES EXPERT: There's doubt as to whether or not it's the device that was used to bring down the Russian aircraft.

MARSH: This retired ATF agent says the on-and-off switch on the detonator means a suicide bomber had to be in the cabin of the plane ready to flip the switch, raising questions about how someone could get on the plane with a device that could easily be detected by screening machines.

MAY: A completely assembled device like this would be difficult to circumvent normal security.

MARSH: U.S. officials say they ran the names on the passenger manifest list and found no red flags for anyone on board. ISIS previously claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 224 people, but if this is the bomb, it would be the first piece of evidence the group has put forward.

MAY: The soda can has some Arabic writing that puts it in the region. The detonator or blasting cap is a commercially manufactured cap that we have seen in that region.


MARSH: So he thinks that there is some credibility to the photo, but other explosive experts I have spoken to today say this soda can would not be able to hold the two pounds of explosives that the Russians say was used.

They also point out the device is not connective and the explosive material used is not in the photo. And if you consider this is a group that's big on producing video, why not provide video proof of them making the bomb? That is what one skeptical expert is asking. It is also worth noting, Jake, Egypt, the lead investigators here, they still have not confirmed a bomb brought down the plane.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much for that report.

Let me bring in from Washington, D.C., former Congresswoman Jane Harman. She was on the House Intelligence Committee and the House Homeland Security and Armed Services Committee. She's now the president of the Wilson Center.

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

ISIS claiming they brought down this Russian plane with a soda can bomb, does this claim come off as credible to you?

JANE HARMAN (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: I think it's plausible. I don't know if it's true. I think a bomb was used. Everyone is 99.9 percent certain of that, except for the Egyptians because they're embarrassed. Whether it was this bomb or not, we know that al-Asiri, the bomb-maker in Yemen, has been trying for years and would have succeeded but for good intelligence and the fact that the Christmas Day bomber's bomb did not explode because of a mistake, the sweat from his body blocked it from exploding.

We know that this is something they're trying to do. And I worry intensely that whether this was the bomb or not the bomb, that ISIL will get its hands on a bomb. And, P.S., the other thing I'm worried about is nuclear proliferation out of Pakistan or North Korea. These folks show that they will do anything. And if they get a tactical bomb or a radiological bomb, I would predict they would use it wherever they could use it. And that could be an absolute game changer here.

TAPPER: Now, these terrorist plots, the one in the Sinai, the car bombs in Beirut and obviously the night of terror Friday night five nights ago here in Paris, they show ISIS seeming to expand its capabilities to strike almost anywhere.


How concerned are you that what happened here in Paris could happen in the United States?

HARMAN: I think the U.S. is a very different place from Europe. We have assimilated a large Muslim population. They help in many cases the FBI and others unravel plots.

We have quite good tradecraft. Our Department of Homeland Security's really good at this now. So is the FBI. And so are many local police departments. I saw that in my years in Congress, that plots were unraveled by local police departments. And we have unraveled most of the plots in the United States, many of which can't be disclosed.

So I'm fairly confident that we're in good shape. There's no such thing as 100 percent security. They have to be lucky once. We have to be right 100 percent of the time. And I do worry about the prevalence of guns in our country and easy access to guns. And criminal elements provided these guns and other technical means in Europe.

We know that from the "Charlie Hebdo" attack 10 months ago. And we're finding it out here. And if these folks who exist in the United States too are contacted, they can get very bad stuff to people who may not be that sophisticated, but certainly can shoot up a movie theater. We have seen that, even though those were not Muslims and not the same issue, fairly easily.

TAPPER: And, Congresswoman, if President Obama asked you to come into his office and advise him on how he could better fight the war against ISIS, what would you tell him?

HARMAN: Well, we have got to up our game in two ways, first of all, the kinetic fight in the region.

And I know we're thinking about doing this. I'm not advocating boots on the ground, but I'm advocating increased use of airpower and more targeters and special operators on the ground to help support a Sunni fighting force on the ground in much larger numbers. That's one piece. Second piece is surging the diplomatic effort in Vienna. There has to

be a political solution to this in the end. We have all the players sitting around the table. Now they have to help make a decision about the political process in Syria.

But the third piece is the idea piece. ISIL has two things. It has a fighting force that's holding territories, and it has an idea. We have to defeat the idea. We have to get in front of these recruiters who are doing a good job, especially in Europe, of getting foreign fighters. We have to have better messaging by people who are defectors, imams, moderate Muslim voices.

And we should use our private sector, which has much more capacity than our State Department, to do these things. And, finally, we have to close off our black eyes, specifically Gitmo, which is a B-roll for recruiting. So many of the people executed by ISIL have worn the uniforms of those prisoners who are still in Guantanamo Bay.


Congresswoman Jane Harman, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, should the U.S. take in Syrian refugees? The president says yes. Republican presidential candidates say no. What does the country think? That story next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD live from Paris, France.

It is a city obviously shaken by the horrific ISIS terrorist attacks just five days ago. But let's turn back to the United States right now for a second. There, more than half the nation's governors are refusing Syrian refugees in their states. In a new Bloomberg News poll out today, a majority of Americans, 53 percent, agree with those governors. They don't want the Obama plan of 10,000 Syrian refugees to be enacted.

Let's go right now to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She is in South Carolina, where former Florida Governor Jeb Bush just laid out his military plans to tackle ISIS.

Sunlen, this is really becoming a contentious campaign issue now.


Many candidates are trying to capitalize on this moment, including Jeb Bush, who here today in South Carolina really tried to reframe the choice that voters have in this race.


SERFATY (voice-over): With the campaign taking a sharp and somber turn towards national security, tonight, the GOP candidates are jostling to gain the upper hand.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This brutal savagery is a reminder of what's at stake in this election.

SERFATY: Jeb Bush at the Citadel today trying to define the election as a choice for commander in chief, casting himself as the safer option, the seasoned hand.

BUSH: We are choosing the leader of the free world. And if these attacks remind us of anything, it is that we're living in serious times that require serious leadership.

SERFATY: An attempt to draw a clearer contrast with the political outsiders and front-runners, Ben Carson and Donald Trump.

Ben Carson today out with his own plan to combat ISIS, part of which calls for following the model of the hacker group Anonymous to monitor social media to block users using inappropriate behavior and religious hate speech. And as he faces questions over his foreign policy credentials, Carson admitting he is on a learning curve.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I know a lot more than I knew. A year from now -- and a year from now, I will know a lot more than I know now.


SERFATY: Donald Trump today asking, "How does Ben Carson survive this problem? Really big." And out with his own radio ad in three early states touting his approach.

TRUMP: Obama has no strategy to defeat ISIS, and now he's preparing to let hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria into the United States.

SERFATY: That debate deepening, many GOP candidates calling for a halt to resettling Syrian refugees in the U.S.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The immigration issue does go front and center as a result of what happened in Paris. And we better start waking up. I say it this way. We better wake up and smell the falafel.

SERFATY: President Obama joining the fray from overseas.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I cannot think of a more -- more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that's been coming out of here during the course of this debate.

SERFATY: Mocking the GOP candidates.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Apparently they're scared of widows and orphans coming in to the United States of America. That doesn't sound very tough to me.

SERFATY: Soliciting this challenge from Senator Cruz.

SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Come back and insult me to my face. Let's have a debate on Syrian refugees right now. We can do it anywhere you want. I'd prefer it in the United States and not overseas where you're making the insults.


SERFATY: And this debate will likely only continue on the campaign trail. That same poll by Bloomberg also showed that terrorism and the threat of ISIS have now jumped in the wake of the Paris attacks to the top concern among Americans -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much. New Jersey, the garden state, is one of the states to say no to bringing in Syrian refugees.

Earlier today, I spoke with the governor, Chris Christie, who's also running for the Republican presidential nomination. And I asked Christie why he thinks turning away refugees is the right move.


TAPPER: Governor, I wanted to get your response to something said by one of the Republican frontrunners, Donald Trump, who last night on Fox said that he thought that some mosques in the United States, mosques were in his view bad things are happening need to be shut down. What's your take on that?

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Jake, let me tell you, I've done this, as the United States attorney in New Jersey in the immediate aftermath of September 11th. What we were able to do is build relationships with some of the mosques to be able to get intelligence.

We used the tools provided to us by the Patriot Act to gather intelligence. And we actually stopped a raid started by self- radicalized Muslims at a mosque in New Jersey that were going to attack Fort Dicks.

We don't need to close mosques. What we need to do is to strengthen our intelligence, roll back the changes that were made to the NSA metadata system, strengthen our intelligence capability around the world so we can gather this information.

We don't need to indiscriminately close mosques. What we need to do is increase our intelligence capability back to where it was post-9/11 so that we can prevent attacks from happening.

TAPPER: Let's talk about this discussion, controversy, dilemma going on about the Syrian refugees. You've said that the United States should not accept any new Syrian refugees, even young orphans. President Obama responded to what you have to say and some of your fellow candidates. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRESIDENT OBAMA: When candidates say we won't admit 3-year-old orphans, that's political posturing. I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that's been coming out of here during the course of this debate.


TAPPER: Governor Christie, President Obama saying there not only that you're pandering but that you and your fellow candidates are potentially hurting national security. Want to give you an opportunity to respond.

CHRISTIE: Yes, well, the president is the person that created this entire situation, Jake. He didn't keep his word when he drew a red line in Syria. He allowed the situation in Syria to happen. He hasn't set up a no-fly zone, which could create a safe haven for these refugees to live safely in their own country rather than having to scatter all across the world.

And he's the one who's casting dispersions? It's a joke and he's a joke on this issue. The fact is we shouldn't be worried about any other folks in this situation without first worrying about the people of the United States of America and their security.

And the widows and orphans I remember are the ones after 9/11. And I don't want to create a new generation of those. The fact is the president could fix this problem in Syria if he had acted before. He could help to ameliorate it now, but he is unwilling and unable to be able to do that.

His failures have created this crisis and now he is the one who wants to be a critic. I don't take any criticism from the president seriously. He lives in a fantasy land, Jake, in the way he thinks the world should be.

Not the way the world is. You're standing in a place where we understand what the reality of world is and the president does not.

TAPPER: Of course as I don't need to tell you as you just enumerated in describing the need to have good relationships with mosques, fighting terrorism isn't just about short-term solutions.

Do you have no concerns at all about some of the rhetoric coming from your fellow candidates in terms of only letting in Christian refugees, about what happens if hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees are barred from entering countries like the U.S. and they're put in these miserable camps where hatred and extremism as we know easily takes root?

[16:50:05] CHRISTIE: Jake, this is fixable. If the president would set up a no-fly zone in Syria, set up a safe haven within the country where folks who are in danger can come and be safe inside their own country. There's no need for this refugee crisis.

The president created the refugee crisis by his own unwillingness to act by his own timidity. The only time he's not timid is when he's criticizing Republicans. But for the rest of the world he's timid. That's what the world sees and that's why Putin is taking advantage of us.

Why the mullahs in Iran are taking advantage of us and why ISIS has grown according to his own CIA director exponentially since Barack Obama has been president. His own FBI director, Jake, said there's no way to vet the refugees coming into this country. I believe Jim Comey, not Barack Obama.

TAPPER: I understand that this anti-refugee position is certainly a popular thing to do, but most of the terrorists here in France appear to be French and Belgian citizens. And I know that one of them got into this country, one of the terrorists got into this country embedding himself with refugees.

But most of them did not. Most of them were citizens here in Europe and I don't hear you or any of your fellow presidential candidates calling for European citizens to be banned from entering the United States.

CHRISTIE: Jake, how do you know most of the terrorists are from Europe? How do you know that? I mean, I'd love to know how you figured that one out. The fact is that the people who perpetrated this attack appear to be mostly from Belgium and France.

But for you to make the blanket conclusion from that, that most of the terrorists are folks who are from inside Europe, it just doesn't wash with me. The fact is we need to protect American homeland security first and foremost.

And admitting people that the FBI director says cannot be vetted, I don't care where they're from, the FBI director said these Syrians cannot be vetted. And if that's the case, then I would not admit them to this country.

TAPPER: Your Republican rival, Jeb Bush, also Ted Cruz, saying that they would give priority to Christian refugees from Syria because they are being slaughtered in the Middle East. Is that something you could support?

CHRISTIE: What we need to do is to create a safe haven in Syria for these people. We need to create a no-fly zone and a safe haven in Syria protected by NATO and its allies so that these folks don't have to leave and aren't under threat from attack from ISIS. That's what we should do.

TAPPER: Governor Chris Christie, presidential candidate, governor of New Jersey, thanks so much for joining us.

CHRISTIE: Jake, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.


TAPPER: Up next, warrantless raids and wiretaps, people are adjusting to a new normal. We'll talk about what's being done in the name of security. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live in Paris. This is still a city on edge with several terror suspects possibly still on the run.

Joining me now to talk is Julian Theron. He is a political scientist and analyst at the University of Versailles and Paris. Thanks for being here.

President Hollande earlier today announcing France is going to take in 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years as planned, how is that going to go over with the French public, do you think?

JULIAN THERON, POLITICAL SCIENTIST AND ANALYST, UNIVERSITY OF VERSAILLES: Well, it's a (inaudible). It's a (inaudible) for the public, but for ISIS as well, meaning that we won't have a political agenda. We got into what us to be afraid of the refugees. We have a very good former head of anti-terror Justice Department and he said that the risk is very low with migrants.

I mean, the roads might be used by the terrorist, but terrorism is about civilians -- it's not about migrants. It's a very good gesture. You want us to do that, we won't do it. Let's take some more in.

TAPPER: Very interesting. Tell me about the concern about intelligence failures that may have -- they didn't cause the terrorist attacks, but they could have possibly not prevented them from happening.

THERON: What would I say is it's not intelligence failure per se. It's more intelligence coordination failure because we know that some of them were known by the Belgium services or Ankara. Some of them went through so we thought there one of them was in Syria still when he was not anymore apparently.

So it's more of a question of integration of intelligence service. We are not like the U.S. We do not have FBI or CIA or federal state, we are safe together.

TAPPER: Interesting. Tell me what you're hearing from your students. What is the mood of the French people as far as you can tell from your students at the University of Versailles in Paris. Are people afraid? Are they defiant? What are they feeling?

THERON: I can say more than just the students generally speaking people are still kind of in shock. It didn't go down. I was speaking with a lawyer who works with refugees and he told me that it's actually like the refugees, it's post-traumatic stress.

So a lot of people are like that. And the younger are a bit lost. They don't know if they have to be afraid, if they have to take care. One of them ask me may I go to have a drink with me friends on the weekend and so on. I say of course you can. Pay attention like normal attention. But of course, you can. You're protected. We have 115,000 security officers around to protect us. And we are working every night and every day to protect the population.

So again what I think will be very important in that we'll have arrested the brain of the operation and we will at this moment people might have some kind of rest. But of course we need some resilience because it's a permanent risk and we have to accept that.

TAPPER: Professor Theron, thank you. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper in Paris. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.