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Terrorists Try to Divert Plane to Olympics; New Fallout From U.S. Diplomat's F-Bomb; Are Chemicals Still In Water Supply?

Aired February 7, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: All right, Jake, thank you.

Happening now, breaking news, Olympic terror -- an attempted hijacking sparking new fears of an attack, as the Winter Games begin in Sochi. We have new details on the Special Forces raid that took down the hijacker and the latest intelligence on the other potential threats at the Olympics.

Plus, profane diplomacy -- new fallout from a top American official's expletive-filled phone call leaked online.

How was her voice secretly recorded?

And by whom?

Water worries -- weeks after a chemical spill, the tap water in one town has residents complaining it's making them sick, though officials insist it's safe.

So why were schools closed?

We'll talk to a top health official, who says he won't drink the water.

And campaign clues -- the vice president, Joe Biden, hinting at his hopes for the 2016 election in an exclusive interview with CNN.

So what could that mean for Hillary Clinton?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We're getting new information about the breaking news, an attempt to hijack a passenger jet and force the pilots to fly to Sochi, Russia, where the Winter Olympic Games have now begun. And even as this frightening ordeal was playing out, CNN has been learning new information from intelligence officials about other suspected Olympic terror plots, including the possible use of suicide attacks and small bombs.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has been tracking all the developments for us.

He begins our coverage this hour with the very latest -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is exactly the kind of target authorities have been worried about, a passenger jet. And we have the very latest.

Within the last two hours, Turkish Special Forces units boarded the plane in what authorities call "a swift operation" and took the hijacker into custody. The hijacker, we're told, did not go voluntarily. Special Forces had to use force, the hijacker was injured slightly.

Now, during the flight, the hijacker, a Ukrainian national, had attempted to have the plane diverted to Sochi from Istanbul. He said he had a bomb on board. The pilots alerted authorities of the hijacking, but ignored his demand and continued on to Istanbul. In fact, we're told that Turkish F-16s were scrambled to escort the plane.

Now, when that plane landed, police found no bomb on board and authorities say that at no time was the hijacker able to enter the cockpit post-9/11. Aircraft win Turkey would also have reinforced doors like we have here.

They also say that the hijacker did not make mention of any of the extremist groups in the Caucasus behind the threats to the Games. They also say they may have used other substances, possibly drugs, which would have put them into a state of mind that concerned them.

Now, immediately, Wolf, as you watch this from the beginning, you know, his M.O. was different from other attackers, particularly the kinds of groups who have threatened the game. You know, in the past, if they had a bomb on board, they would have detonated that bomb. In fact, attackers tied to these groups in 2004 were able to bring down two passenger jets doing exactly the same thing. So the fact that he -- you know, he said take me to Sochi, he said I have a bomb, he didn't set off the bomb, you know, very early on, it was clear that this was not that kind of attack, but certainly a worry because it's the kind of vulnerable target they've been concerned about.

BLITZER: And I'm hearing that they're evaluating other potential plots, threats out there, even as we speak?

SCIUTTO: That's right. And we know they've been concerned about a number of different potential threats to the Games, one of them, of course, the possibility of terrorists smuggling explosives to -- on planes inside toothpaste tubes. And I'm told their focus now is on low sophistication, but effective methods. That means suicide bombers, IEDs, small arms attacks.

I'm also told they're aware of another potential threat, though this is considered less likely, and that is the use of chemical weapons.

Now, the origin of this concern was a threat posted on an extremist Web site where the commander of the Chechen extremist group Ansar al-Sunnah, following bomb attacks in Russia last month, made a statement addressing the Russian people, saying, quote, "These attacks are only the beginning of your suffering. The attacks will continue, including using chemicals," a very haunting and sobering threat there.

Now, I'm told U.S. authorities have not confirmed these groups have access to these weapons. However, analysts are concerned about Syria as a potential source, you know, Wolf, and I -- you and I have talked a lot about Syria's chemical weapons. They're concerned about the security of those weapons. And we know there is a nexus between extremist groups inside Syria and those in Chechnya, in the Caucasus, around the Sochi Games. They go back and forth. They have cooperation. So that's something that they're watching. It's not the thing they're most concerned about. They're more concerned about less sophisticated attacks. But it's something, among many things, they have to keep an eye on.

BLITZER: And we know there are a lot of weapons missing from Libya, as well, that have simply gone astray.

Stand by for a moment, because I want to bring in our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh.

He's on the ground in Sochi for us right now.

Also, our CNN national security analyst, the former CIA officer, Robert Baer.

He's joining us from Los Angeles -- Nick, you're there. You're our eyes and ears right now.

There is a sense of concern, I'm sure, among the attendees. But give us the latest as far as all these security concerns are going on.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the opening ceremony really passed without any notice of the drama happening over the Black Sea. Just shortly before it, we didn't see any change in the process happening inside the stadium. The fireworks at the end still spectacularly went off. And, frankly, I think many people went home possibly oblivious to what occurred inside the Istanbul airport Savia Gochen (ph), when their special forces went onto the plane.

And I have to say, it doesn't really sound like that particular hijacking signal was based upon a genuine hijack threat. There doesn't seem to be an explosive device. It doesn't seem as though the man in question, the Ukrainian, has any particular ideological links outside of Turkey (INAUDIBLE) Muslim extremists here at all.

So there is a possibility, as one Turkish official suggested, that while he wasn't drunk, there may have been some other substance involved. So I think we may be looking to, perhaps, a very unfortunate coincidence of timing here. Right when they were in the middle of this opening ceremony, this man acted erratically, as he did, of course, causing Turkish pilots to be deeply concerned.

But perhaps what we've seen at the end is just a remarkable piece of bad behavior rather than necessarily the culmination of months of planning -- Wolf. BLITZER: Well, let me ask Jim what he's hearing about cooperation between the U.S. and Russian officials right now. That could be very significant, if it's at a good level.

SCIUTTO: No question. You do hear that there's some improvement. But in general, what I'm told is that for threats outside of Russia, there's good cooperation. For instance, there were arrests yesterday involving some Chechen women in France. But for inside, Russia, that's where the Russians hold their cards closer to their chest. And that's of concern, because that's where the most serious threats seem to be emanating from.

And, you know, there are a lot of targets in Russia. If they can't get inside the ring of steel, you have the transportation links. You have other cities where these groups have struck successfully in recent weeks.

BLITZER: Let me bring Bob Baer into this conversation -- Bob, give us your assessment right now about the threat level to these two weeks of Olympic Games in Sochi.

BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Wolf, I feel -- I think it's high. The Chechens are capable of hitting at least somewhere in Russia. And I think they will.

Frankly, I'm a bit surprised they didn't try something today. And I didn't -- I don't think that hijacking clearly, it wasn't part of one of their operations.

I don't think we've seen the end of this. I can't imagine that the Chechens or these Islamic groups would let this pass, the entire Olympics. The only thing we don't know is what sort of deal the Russians may have cut with them. That's always a possibility. And they may pass without anything happening, but I would be surprised.

BLITZER: Because what I have been hearing coming into these games, Bob, and I wonder if you agree with this assessment, I've been hearing from officials here in Washington, what they're really worried about are so-called softer targets outside of the immediate area of the Olympic village, but potentially could cause a lot of casualties, a lot of damage in areas that are less secure than in that so-called ring of steel.

BAER: Wolf, you're absolutely right. You cannot protect all of Russia. Weapons are easy to obtain. So are chemical weapons. You know, they're still missing weapons around the RLC, improvised devices, military explosives -- any number of things could be used against soft targets, either against foreigners in some place like St. Petersburg or Moscow, or even Russian targets.

I just really don't think they're going to let this pass, the entire Olympics. I really don't.

BLITZER: I've been hearing the same thing.

Nick, you're there. You know a lot about the hatred that a lot of these militants have specifically aimed at the Russian leadership of Vladimir Putin. And they've had four, five, six years to prepared for this, so you have to assume they're going to try for something.

So here's the question to you, what would be the most likely concern, the most likely target that they're most worried about?

PATON WALSH: Well, certainly, soft targets. I think the Russians are absolutely clear they're worried about railways. We've seen real airport-style measures around all railway stations here. Simply trying to get into the Olympic venue cordons here, you can't take liquids in. I saw a man today forced to drink a whole bottle of Coke in front of me simply because they wouldn't let that inside the venue.

So they're obviously very worried here about the potential for liquids that aren't properly sanctioned.

But across South Russia, that's the problem, Wolf. It's not here. That's where the security is. We're talking about a vast area. The police are corrupt, they're inept, their have eyes focused on here, not on the rest of (INAUDIBLE). It's rife with explosives.

And the key problem here is not dealing with militants who necessarily follow a timetable or a corporate structure. These are loose cells that are often very small, extraordinarily radical. A lot of them simply just want to see their own life extinguished in some nihilistic project to kill others.

So trying to stop that, that's extraordinarily hard in the first place. And then, of course, you have the preparation, you have the fact that law enforcement here, when they're not really on the ball, can often let terrible things occur.

So I have to confess, it's been very fortunate that today has passed without incident at all in Southern Russia. It surprised me somewhat.

But these militants have a history of, frankly, choosing an unexpected time to strike. They've had their P.R. victory here simply by, frankly, it seems, reducing some attendance of Americans at the Games simply by continually making these threats and the series of bombings in Volgograd.

So I think we're going to have to see for the two weeks ahead whether they pass peacefully across all of Russia, because it's very hard to protect nine time zones, even with Russia's resources -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

All right, Nick Paton Walsh, Jim Sciutto, Bob Baer, guys, thanks very much.

Don't go too far away.

Up next, top U.S. military commanders accused of some shocking conduct, including sexual assault, gambling and cheating. Tonight, the Pentagon taking dramatic action.

Plus, new fallout from this jaw-dropping expletive said by a top American diplomat.

Did Russia secretly record her phone call?





BLITZER: The new fallout from a top American diplomats very undiplomatic expletive hurled at the European Union during a phone call that was secretly record many suspect by Russia. The questions now, how did they do it? Why wasn't that call on a secure line and what will this do to the already chilly relationship between Washington and Moscow? Brian Todd is here. He's been looking into all of this. What are you finding out?

Brian Todd, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's hardly anyway the relationship between the U.S. and Russia could be any worse at this point in the wake of all of this. Both sides accuse each other of meddling, spying, sabotage, all from one expletive on a phone line that was probably tapped.


TODD (voice-over): The F-bomb heard around the world.


TODD: A voice strongly resembling U.S. assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, frustrated at the EU dragging its feet on a power sharing deal in Ukraine. The recording of the phone call leaked on social media, a call which cannot be independently verified. Nuland is not commenting on her apparent remark.

NULAND: Other than to say it was pretty impressive trade craft. The audio was extremely clear.

TODD: A clear finger point at the Russians. Other U.S. officials jumping in.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: You know, the Russians were the first to tweet about this particular call. Only a few countries have the level of capabilities needed. I'll let you use your own judgment.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it says something about Russia's role. TODD: The Russians are, at the very least, denying they posted the call. The Russian official who tweeted out a link to the audio now tweets, "I was just monitoring the internets," implying that's where he found it. The Russians could have motivation from embarrassing for the Americans given what the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine apparently said on that same phone call about a power deal.

VOICE OF GEOFFREY PYATT, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: You can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude, the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it.

PROF. ANGELA STENT, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: From the Russian point of view, this is a great propaganda coup to say, look, you know, they're as bad as we are or they're interfering, they're trying to shape what's happening in Ukraine.


TODD (on-camera): There's also a big question about spy craft 101. Why were two top American diplomats having a sensitive conversation like that over a phone line that could have been tapped and probably was tapped? Here's a quote from former CIA counterintelligence chief, Paul Redmond, in my conversation with him today. Extraordinary quote, Wolf. "If the state department is still so stupid as to be talking in this day and age of such sensitive subjects in such a way over lines of communication that can be monitored, they deserve all this embarrassment."

Now, we pressed the state department on that today and others did press and ask them, you know, how do you instruct your diplomats to maybe avoid doing this kind of thing over the dangers of these kinds of lines being tapped and a state department spokesman said, quote, "They are aware in parts of the world of the risks that you run." That's all she said.

BLITZER: Did they say they were trying to speak on a secure -- because if they were speaking on a secure line between Washington and Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine where the U.S. ambassador in the Ukraine is based, is there fear the Russians could tap into the so- called secure line? That may not be all that secure?

TODD: They are not saying. We don't know yet whether they were actually speaking over a secure line. We're assuming now that they did not, that this was some kind of an open line. They were having a casual --

BLITZER: -- the U.S. is to blame and the American diplomatic, assistant secretary of state, and the ambassador if they're speaking about sensitive issues like this and they're using the F-word, they shouldn't necessarily be speaking on an open line that anybody, not just the Russians, but a whole bunch of others are fully capable of listening in.

TODD: Right. And if they were speaking on a secure phone line, there are bigger problems out there. Obviously, that's been compromised. BLITZER: So, either they had a bad judgment to speak on an unsecured line and open line, or if it was a secure line, then they've got a bigger problem.

TODD: It's a disaster.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, reporting.

Coming up, schools closing, reports of illnesses yet West Virginia officials insist the water (ph) is safe to drink. CNN investigations uncovered disturbing new developments.

And will he or won't he run for president in 2016? The vice president, Joe Biden, speaking exclusively to CNN about the monumental decision that awaits him.


BLITZER: Turning now to a story CNN has been on since the very beginning. Tonight, there may be more trouble with the drinking water in Charleston, West Virginia after that chemical spill in January. We're learning new details about school closings, complaints of tap water with a foul odor and concerns that water may now be making some people sick. Health officials insist the water is safe to drink, but many of Charleston 3,000 residents just don't believe it.

Drew Griffin of CNN Investigations is joining us now. Drew, tonight, there's evidence some of those chemicals are still in the drinking water.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIONS: No doubt about it. You know, they're trying to finally flush the entire system, Wolf, get rid of any residual chemical that's still flowing through the pipes of this West Virginia American Water Company system. But the flushing is causing another problem, the dreaded smell.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): There is growing skepticism the water is safe to drink in Charleston, West Virginia. Even with assurances from officials, residents simply don't and, perhaps, have good reason not to believe what they're being told. At a hearing Thursday, the head of the West Virginia American Water Company sounded defensive, basically saying it's time people believe him.

JEFF MCINTYRE, CEO, WEST VIRGINIA AMERICAN WATER: This is an award winning treatment plant that's been there for 40 years. This five-day episode, I understand, has shaken the confidence.

GRIFFIN: But recent attempts to flush water systems in homes and especially schools has again shaken confidence. The problem, schools are being closed because the flushing is creating what some experienced as overpowering stink, licorice, the tell-tale signature of this dangerous that used to clean coal. Water company president was quoted as telling lawmakers, "Just because you can smell it does not make it unacceptable for use."

McIntyre reportedly also said, "We're trying to deal with an aesthetic issue." Well, this week, no fewer than five schools closed because of that so-called aesthetic issue. A school worker was treated after fainting and one student had to be treated for burning eyes. So, is the water safe or not? According to federal state and the local water officials, yes, based on EPA guidelines.

Despite those assurances, most people are sticking with bottled water until they're completely sure of what is and is not flowing through their homes. CNN conducted its own test in homes just this week, including the home of Emily Chittenden-Laird, the results MCHM is still coming out of her taps, though, only in trace amounts. Safe, says the water company, no way says Emily.

EMILY CHITTENDEN-LAIRD, CHARLESTON RESIDENT: There's just not a lot of information out there about this. We don't know what the long- term effects are going to be. Yes, it may not kill us, but I'm concerned about my kids 20 years from now.

GRIFFIN: She is not buying what the water company and state health officials are saying. And she is not drinking the water and may never again.


GRIFFIN (on-camera): Wolf, there's going to be a Congressional field hearing in Charleston Monday. I'm going to be there. But I'm not sure the numbers of Congress and Senate can get any better answers than we can. It's a way for one Senate bill to get some attention, though, and that's focusing on improving the safety of the above- ground chemical storage tanks in the country. That's the tank that caused the problem in the first place.

But again, that big question remains, when are people in Charleston, West Virginia going to find someone, some number, some tests that they actually believe in that will move them back to their taps? And right now, I don't see it happening.

BLITZER: What an awful, awful situation in West Virginia. Drew, thanks for your reporting. We'll check in back with you on Monday, of course, as well.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. Joining us, Dr. Rahul Gupta, he's the health officer, the executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. You just saw him in Drew Griffin's report as well. Dr. Gupta, when they say this is an aesthetic problem, what exactly does that mean? Because a lot of folks don't buy it. They are smelling stuff. Some of them are getting sick. Their eyes are burning. What's going on?

DR. RAHUL GUPTA, KANAWHA-CHARLESTON HEALTH DEPARTMENT: Sure, Wolf. One of the challenges here is that the odor threshold for this chemical is very low. What that means in general terms is that where the CDC has deemed this chemical to be safe at a certain level, it has to go almost 1,000 times below that level in order for the smell not to be. This is also in addition to the case issue that is at hand.

People have a natural instinct like all of us and the rest of the nation and the world is, our water is not supposed to smell. So, when you feel and smell black licorice in your water, people feel that the chemical is still in it, although, in very small and minute amounts and that is the real reason people are having the hesitancy to start drinking their tap water again.

BLITZER: Some kids say their eyes were burning. There were some folks who were fainting. Is that just a psychotraumatic thing or what's going on?

GUPTA: What is happening also is when this water is actually put at a higher temperature, there are more odors than at a cold temperature. So, there are fumes and what we have been asked by a lot of residents is, should we be looking at a water quality testing but also air quality testing because it is possible, speaking medically, that when the fumes do occur, people could faint, people could have other troubles because of the fumes that are aerosolized.

So, what's important here is to understand that some of that maybe because of the fumes and some of that maybe because people are just fearful because, after all, you know, what's happened here is people's water of all of the things that's been impacted and that is a very serious thing to happen.

BLITZER: And are you drinking the water?

GUPTA: I'm bathing in it. And here's what happens. There's a strong smell that comes out and as being a sensitive person, while safety is not the question for me personally, it's actually the smell that prevents me, just like so many thousands of West Virginians from drinking the water.

BLITZER: Dr. Gupta, good luck to you. Good luck to everybody in West Virginia. We'll stay on top of this story for our viewers. Thank you very much for joining us.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, Joe Biden says he can't think of a reason why he shouldn't run for president of United States. We're going to break down with vice president surprising comments he made in an exclusive CNN interview, including when he said -- we'll also break down what he said about LaGuardia Airport, that it's almost like an airport in a third world country.

And if Biden does run, he'll have a hard time competing with the Clinton political machine. We're going to dissect what's in the revealing new book about Hillary Clinton and her formidable inner circle.


BLITZER: Vice President Joe Biden is revealing some dramatic new hints about his hopes for a 2016 run for the White House in an exclusive new interview with CNN's own Kate Bolduan. And it's all raising new questions about what it could mean for Hillary Clinton as well.

We want to bring in our own Brianna Keilar, has a brand new role here at CNN, senior political correspondent. She'll be covering the 2016 campaign extensively.

Also, joining us the journalist Liza Mundy who wrote a review for the "Washington Post" on a new Hillary Clinton book that's due out next week. The book entitled "HRC."

Brianna, first to you, congratulations first of all, on your new assignment, your new title. We'll get to a little bit more on that later. But tell us what you're hearing and what the vice president had to say.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today Vice President Joe Biden really made news in this interview with Kate Bolduan here on CNN about his timeline for deciding if he's running in 2016 and now we've learned from speaking to sources close to him that he intentionally chose a decision date well after Hillary Clinton who says she will say this year if she's running.


KEILAR (voice-over): Joe Biden telling CNN he is actively considering another run for president.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Can I have a timetable?

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: Probably the -- realistically a year this summer.

KEILAR: Summer 2015. That, sources close to the vice president confirmed, is a very real target date.

BOLDUAN: Give me another good reason why you shouldn't run.

BIDEN: I can't.


BIDEN: There may be reasons I don't run but there's no obvious reason for me why I think I should not run.

KEILAR: But sources say Biden realizes that could change in the next year and a half, an eternity in politics. Top of his mind, his family. And if they think he should run. They did, after all, nix the 2004 effort.

Sources say despite his 1988 surgeries to repair brain aneurysms, Biden is very healthy. He doesn't drink, he watches what he eats, he stays fit. But he's not young.

BIDEN: I feel no regret, not one single solitary ounce of regret. KEILAR: He's run for president twice unsuccessfully and knows the grueling nature of the campaign trail and White House. In 2016, he turned 74, which would make him the oldest first-term president in history. The health of his son Beau, the attorney general of Delaware, who was treated last year at a renowned cancer center, is a key consideration for Biden.

In November, Beau said his doctors gave him a clean bill of health. But for the vice president, a man who lost his first wife and a daughter in a car crash, the health of his family will be a determining factor in a presidential run.

Beyond his family, the biggest influence on his decision, Hillary Clinton. Her powerhouse candidacy, should she run, might dissuade Biden. Clinton has yet to announce but Democratic doctors and political masterminds are overwhelmingly throwing their weight behind her.


KEILAR: In fact, some of President Obama's key campaign aides have already signed up with groups supportive of Clinton. Biden doesn't have a grassroots infrastructure. There's no super PAC supporting him but one source said that a team could be put together quickly. After all, he is the vice president.

BLITZER: And I've covered him for a long time. He was in the Senate for 36 years. Now he's vice president for five. He really would like to be -- I don't think there's any doubt he would like to be president of the United States.

KEILAR: Yes -- no. And one source close to him told me, look, yes, he's ambitious. It's not like he hasn't thought about this. We all know that from watching him. But it's not really the only thing in his calculus. In fact, I was told he's ambitious but it's not unrestrained at the expense of everything else.

Family input, I know a lot of politicians say that, you really get the sense that that matters a lot. Health in his family, determinative in this case, Wolf, I'm told, and Hillary Clinton is clearly a factor or else he wouldn't have picked that date of summer 2015, giving himself quite a buffer to know whether or not she will be running.

BLITZER: Good point. And let's talk a little bit about Hillary Clinton right now. Joining our conversation, Liza Mundy is here. She's a program director at the New America Foundation. A journalist having written for "The Washington Post" many -- for many years.

Also you have an excellent new book review that just published in the "Washington Post" today on this new book "HRC" by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.

Loyalty, running throughout this book for Hillary Clinton is very significant. Explain what's going on here. LIZA MUNDY, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Right. Well, there's a dramatic scene towards the beginning of the book where it's after the 2008 presidential primaries, after her concession to Barack Obama and there are a couple of very loyal staffers who are in her shuttered campaign headquarters putting the finishing touches on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet which is tracking those who remained loyal to Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries and those who endorsed Barack Obama, in many cases to the Clinton's surprise and dismay. They want to have a record of people who were loyal to them and people who were not.

BLITZER: And presumably the people who were loyal will get jobs or get important positions. Those who were less than loyal might be shunned?

MUNDY: Well, more than that. I mean, while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, it was really Bill Clinton who was keeping sort of the family political network alive. So those who were loyal would get Bill Clinton campaigning for them in the midterms or the 2012 elections. Those who were not loyal would in some cases see him campaigning against their primary opponents.

BLITZER: As you point out, Brianna, the -- so much of the Barack Obama organization, money, talent, they are getting aboard, they're jumping to board, this Hillary Clinton bandwagon right now which potentially for the vice president, if he decides to run, would be an enormous problem.

KEILAR: That's right. There's already a lot of money behind a potentially Hillary Clinton candidacy. But I would say that's not even necessarily the biggest issue. One of the bigger issues for Joe Biden is he may be weighing -- getting in and building an organization is the technical expertise because when you look at the 2012 Obama campaign, one of the things that defined it, even compared to his campaign in 2008, was all of the research that was done on voter behavior, voter inclinations.

It was really seen widely to give him the edge over Mitt Romney and now you have folks who have been steeped in this technical expertise who are aligning themselves behind Hillary Clinton, not Joe Biden.

BLITZER: In the -- your article on the stages of Hillary, the evolution of Hillary Clinton, working with Hillary Clinton, you described this, among other things, initial stage dread working with her, then grudgingly respect her and then like her. Explain this -- this evolution.

MUNDY: Right. Well, when she took over as secretary of state, I mean, obviously she and Barack Obama are both celebrity titanic politicians. And there was an initial sort of a distance between them and between their staff. And so what you see over the course of several years in this book is those two individuals drawing closer together and their staff drawing closer together.

And people saying, you know, that they were really intimidated by Hillary Clinton. She seemed very formidable and then over the years with her hard work, with her sense of humor, and her toughness, people becoming won over.

BLITZER: You know, and I know the president and his aides repeatedly are asked if it's Hillary Clinton versus Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination, Mr. President, who would you support? He dodges that one, doesn't he?

KEILAR: He dodges it. And you can't blame him. Obviously he's very close to both of these potential candidates and it would be unwise, I think you could argue also, because some folks say at this point Hillary Clinton is so far ahead in the polls but at the same time, you know, it might be healthy for her or certainly another candidate to have more of a contested primary.

And they don't really want President Obama, for instance, clearing the field. They've looked back to Bill Clinton and Al Gore and they say, you know, that didn't actually serve Al Gore very well when Bill Clinton did that.

BLITZER: You've got a new job coming up, right?

KEILAR: I do. Yes.

BLITZER: It starts today.

KEILAR: That's right. Today.


BLITZER: Tell our viewers what it is.

KEILAR: Political -- senior political correspondent covering 2016 Democrats. Hillary Clinton, among them, obviously, and I'll be pinch-hitting for you from time to time.

BLITZER: Well, we welcome and good luck. This is going to be a fabulous new chapter in your excellent career already.

KEILAR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Liza, thanks so much for coming in.

MUNDY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good work for your part as well.

Brianna just spoke about Joe Biden's long history of so-called gaffes. But up next why the vice president says New York's LaGuardia Airport is like a third world country. What's going on?

And sexual assault, adultery, illegal gambling, drunkenness, those are just some of the allegations against some top military commanders. We're taking a closer look at why there are so many cases of military men behaving badly.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And it's disturbing breaking news coming in about an American missionary, Kenneth Bae, being held in North Korea.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

What is going on?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's really a disappointing development. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki confirming that Kenneth Bae has been transferred from a hospital back to a labor camp. They are very concerned, says the State Department, including about his health, which has been a continuing concern.

We're told that the Swedish representatives there who represent U.S. interest in North Korea had visited him in that labor camp as recently as today.

Now over the course of his detention they've been able to see him 10 times and the State Department has also been in touch now with Kenneth Bae's family to let them know this disturbing news.

They continue to urge for his release and they continue to offer to send Ambassador King to North Korea to help negotiate Kenneth Bae's release.

And you know, this is particularly disappointing, Wolf, because recently a couple of weeks ago Kenneth Bae made a public apology and in other cases where Americans have been held in North Korea, when you've seen that public apology, oftentimes their release is followed, that that's sort of their last rite of passage, you know, going through this -- going through this country's detention system.

So this is really disturbing news and particularly as the State Department drew attention to there's real concern about his health. He was in a hospital to be treated to go back to a labor camp is really not where he needs to be right now.

BLITZER: And as recently as yesterday morning, President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast, he singled out, he mentioned Kenneth Bae, my name, saying please, let's hopes, let's pray that Kenneth Bae from North Korea very soon.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. So you get this entreaty from the highest levels of the U.S. government. And as the State Department mentioned, they've been constantly making this offer to send a U.S. ambassador to negotiate the release, to discuss this at the highest levels of North Korean authorities.

As we know looking at past cases sometimes this kind of route may just work. It worked for Bill Clinton in the case of Laura Ling, for instance, (INAUDIBLE), and others. So -- and Bill Richardson who's had some success. So they're still hoping to have that kind of contact but there's really no way to slice this or sugarcoat this. This is a very disappointing news. I would say something of a surprise as well.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm surprised as well. I thought things were moving in the other direction.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Let's hope for the best, though. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, reporting.

Sexual assault, adultery, illegal gambling, drunkenness, those are just some of the allegations against some top U.S. military commanders. There are now so many problems with misconduct at the highest levels of the United States military that the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had to come out and announce a crackdown.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She's working this very disturbing story for us.

What's the very latest, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, the majority of U.S. troops, of course, serve very honorably, but some of the top brass are not. And that is leading to fundamental questions about whether the military has a problem with ethics.


STARR (voice-over): Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says it's time to figure out just how bad the bad behavior is in the ranks.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Some of our people are falling short of these high standards and expectations. Ethics and character are absolute values that we cannot take for granted.

STARR: The Pentagon has been deeply embarrassed by more than a dozen senior generals and admirals who have behaved so badly in the last 15 months, they have come under investigation.

HAGEL: I think we need to find out, is there a deep, wide problem? If there is, then what's the scope of that problem? How did this occur?

STARR: The majority of military personnel are upstanding, but some wonder if the military has lost ethical discipline after more than a decade of war.

Retired Lieutenant General David Barno who commanded all troops in Afghanistan says there are no excuses.

LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO (RET.), CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: You know, leaders cannot have a culture that tolerates these kind of behavior. STARR: Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair is headed to trial next month charged with sexual assault and adultery. Brigadier General Martin Schweitzer is banned from briefing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He wrote lewd e-mails about a female member of Congress calling her smoking hot. His promotion is on hold.

Brigadier General Brian Roberts has been reprimanded and relieved of duty for alleged adultery and sexual assault with multiple women. He's expected to retire shortly. Vice Admiral Timothy Giardina removed from command allegedly involved in illegal gambling. Major Michael Kerry relieved of duty for being drunk on official travel.

BARNO: A lot of these activities were known to peers and the fact that they went unchallenged is flatly unacceptable. And that bothers me.

STARR: In the enlisted ranks, also, most obey the rules but there are high-profile problems. More than 100 Air Force and Navy nuclear personnel are under investigation for cheating on exams.


STARR: Now America's top military officer, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has also spoken out about this. And he says, in his words, the transgressions of a few cannot be allowed to stand and dismay the reputation and the professionalism of the entire U.S. military -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. But it's still very disturbing what's going on.

Barbara, thanks very much.

Coming up, we're going to get back to our top story. Coming out of the Winter Olympic Games in Russia, we've got some new details about the attempt to hijack a passenger jet and forced the pilots to fly to Sochi.

But first we have new video of the former congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, doing something many thought she would never be able to do again -- drive a car.


BLITZER: Civilians are evacuating the Syrian city area of Homs. Two buses carrying about 35 women, children and elderly left the city. The first evacuations under a deal between the Syrian rebels and the government.

The State Department would not comment on whether the Syrian regime is clearing the city before making a final assault. The U.S. government will comment, however, on the growing threat of Western fighters in Syria.

In a speech earlier today, the new Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jay Johnson said the U.S. is, quote, "very focused on identifying foreign fighters from the U.S., Canada and Europe who are being recruited by extremists to fight in Syria's civil war, says Syria is now a matter of homeland security for the United States.

President Obama signed the nearly $1 trillion Farm Bill into law today. A massive bipartisan deal that sets agriculture policy for the next five years. He also laid out plans for a new program to strengthen rural businesses. The farm bill was passed with Republican support, but no Republicans invited to the signing ceremony today were in attendance.

And take a look at this video. Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords driving for first time since she was critically wounded in a shooting three years ago. It shows her driving around a racetrack with her husband Mark Kelly. She posted the video to her Facebook page with a message saying, quote, "2014 will be a year of many wins."

Giffords says she's also making progress with her speech and walking ability.

Happening now, breaking news, we have new details on an attempted airline hijacking and bomb threat linked to the Olympics as the winter games begin under a cloud of terror fierce.

We're also learning about other potential threats in Sochi that authorities are tracking right now. Sources revealing to CNN some of the dangerous plots that might unfold.