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Sub Glitches Set Back Flight 370 Search; Suspicious Cell Phone Revelation Sparks Questions; Two of Three Bluefin 21 Missions Cut Short; Ukraine's Crackdown on Militants Stalls

Aired April 16, 2014 - 17:00   ET


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

Happening now, the breaking news we're following -- the search setbacks, back to back glitches plaguing the unmanned sub seen as the best hope of finding Malaysia Flight 370.

So why isn't better equipment being deployed?

Ferry disaster -- a boat carrying hundreds of students rolls over in chilly waters, forcing some passengers to jump for their lives. The death toll is now climbing.

Will rescuers be able to find dozens of missing people?

Face-off -- pro-Russian militants seizing tanks and armored vehicles from Ukrainian forces, as Vladimir Putin issues a dire warning.

So is Ukraine on the brink of civil war?

And a massive terrorist meeting -- disturbing video emerging of an extraordinary al Qaeda gathering. The story seen first right here on CNN.

Did the U.S. completely miss it?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We begin with the breaking news in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. A second mission by the unmanned sub scouring the Indian Ocean floor cut short, this time because it was running low on oil. The Bluefin 21 is now back in the water, but so far, no sign of the Boeing 777 or the 239 people on board now missing for 41 days. We have our correspondents and analysts, they're standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM and around the world, bringing you the kind of coverage that only CNN can.

Let's go straight to Perth, Australia.

CNN's Michael Holmes is joining us live right now -- what's the latest, Michael, that you're seeing and hearing there? MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the Bluefin submersible, as you said, had another problem on its second descent to the ocean floor. But as far as we know, all is well now on the third trip down.

Now, as the search continues, so, too, does the agony, and, in many cases, the anger for the relatives of those on board Malaysian Flight 370.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You're all bloody liars and you're lying to us again.

HOLMES (voice-over): New frustration for Flight 370 families and in the underwater search for the missing plane. Dozens of relatives of Chinese passengers stormed out of a teleconference with senior Malaysian officials, furious when the link between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur went down.


HOLMES: Deep below the Indian Ocean, the second setback for the Bluefin 21. This time, it had a technical glitch. The U.S. Navy says it ran low on oil that protects its electronic equipment from saltwater.

The drone resurfaced about 11 hours into its 24-hour mission. It was filled with more oil and sent back underwater. The Navy says this latest problem not at all unusual, but it is driving home the many challenges involved with the Bluefin mission.

Its first dive aborted because it ventured into waters that were deeper than it was programmed to go.

Despite the interruptions, the Bluefin has been able to download data, so far, though, no evidence of the plane.

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF MISSING PASSENGER: It's absolutely confounding to me that we've not seen a single shred of concrete evidence.

HOLMES: And the Bluefin 21, Wolf, has been down on its third run just above the ocean floor for hours now. No word of any further difficulties so far. We are expecting an update in the next few hours on that and also on the state of the air and sea search for surface wreckage.

One more thing, Wolf. The oil sample from the ocean surface, we're told it is now on land here in Western Australia and being analyzed. Results, we hope, too, in the hours ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As soon as you get those results, you'll let us know.

Michael, thank you.

We're also digging deeper right now into one of the latest twists in this story. We've learned that the first officer's cell phone was on around the time the plane disappeared. At least one expert is calling that revelation "flat out suspicious."

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is here.

She's working this part of the story.

I know we reported on this a few days ago, but you're getting more information.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, questions about this new information really are mounting, because there's so many more unknowns than knowns at this point. But sources, experts we've been speaking with are trying to figure out what it means. If the (INAUDIBLE) cell phone connected with that tower, was the phone on in the beginning of the flight or turned on mid-flight?


BROWN (voice-over): While Malaysian officials investigating Flight 370's disappearance have told U.S. investigators they have data that shows First Officer Fariq Hamid's phone connected to a cell tower near city of Penang, Malaysia once the plane was airborne, what we still don't know is if Hamid's phone connected with other towers along the flight path.

DARRELL WEST, TECHNOLOGY EXPERT: It's odd that the cell phone would have connected only with one cell tower. You might have thought that if the phone were on for a longer period of time, that multiple cell towers would have picked it up. So it certainly is a little suspicious in terms of the information that we have at this point.

BROWN: Experts tell CNN the plane would also likely have been lower than 10,000 feet for a phone to connect to a cell tower, suggesting the plane may have been flying at a lower altitude at the time it passed over the area near Penang.

Still, U.S. officials say there's no indication the co-pilot or anyone else on the plane made any actual calls. They say even if someone had tried to dial out from the plane, just because the tower connected to the phone doesn't mean a call would have gone through.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: By the time you're flying at 300 knots, 350, 400 knots, you're going to go through the cell phone range -- the cell phone areas so quickly that it doesn't even have time to make a connection.

BROWN: One recent survey suggested 30 percent of U.S. passengers forget to turn off their phones in-flight. That's one reason experts say the idea that the cell tower connected only to Hamid's cell phone seems either highly unlikely or suspicious.

WEST: If you were in the air, the passengers would have had their phones turned off or on airplane mode, so they would not have been transmitting. So it is certainly plausible that his could have been the only one on, since the passengers would have been respecting the rule not have their phones on.


BROWN: So, again, if that was true, the phone should have connected to other towers, which raises the question of whether someone turned on the phone to try to reach out for help -- and, Wolf, U.S. officials also tell me that there could have been other passengers' cell phones that hit the tower, but so far, Malaysians have only shared information indicating that it was the co-pilot's phone.

And let's keep this all in perspective here. This is just one tiny piece of the puzzle. And without more information, it's tough to know what exactly this means.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment.

I want to continue this conversation.

I want to bring in our aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz, and our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes.

So what did that say to you, that only one tower may have discovered this?

It all sounds either suspicious or ridiculous that only one cell phone, for example, was on.


BLITZER: We know that people in planes don't turn off their cell phones. A lot of them don't.

GOELZ: Well, exactly. People don't turn them off. And I think we've got to put it under suspicious. I don't think the Malaysians have released all of the information that they have on this.

BLITZER: Why wouldn't they?

I mean what's holding them back?

GOELZ: It has been a criminal investigation that they have let out pieces of information, some of it not accurate, from the beginning. And it's inexplicable. It hasn't helped them.

BLITZER: Do you believe that only one cell phone, Tom, was on, the co-pilot's cell phone?



FUENTES: And I think that if you -- you know, it would be one thing, while that plane was at the airport in KL, it's a city of 10 million people. In all of the people, thousands of people in that airport with cell phones on, it would be hard to isolate. You don't know the phone number of all the people from the 14 other countries. So that might be hard to isolate for the police.

But that tower at Penang, that plane, as David Soucie said, it's going through that zone so quickly that there should have been a burst of cell phones connected for a short time and then unconnected as the plane moved on.

BLITZER: Are your sources, Pamela, suggesting the Malaysians may be holding back information not just from the public, but from -- example -- from U.S. investigators, as well?

BROWN: I mean I think that U.S. investigators, sources I've been speaking with, are cautious and sort of skeptical of all the information that they're getting, as they should be. They're not leading the investigation, so theory not privy to all the information that's out there. And, of course, as we dissect what this means, it's clear that there's probably a lot of information that we don't know, such as, were other passengers' phones on, did they ping that tower, as well?

So that is sort of the general sense that I'm getting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment, because I want to go back to the region right now.

Andy Scott is joining us, the Royal New Zealand Air Force wing commander.

He's directly involved in Flight 370 search.

Commander, thanks very much for coming in.

First of all, any developments, as far as you know, over the past 24 hours?

Have they spotted anything?

Have they found anything?

Any word yet on that oil slick?


Unfortunately, it was a similar story over the last 24 hours to what we've previously been reporting on. The New Zealand aircraft completed another 11-hour mission yesterday, overnight, New Zealand time. And they did find the usual amount of debris out there, around about 10 contacts, which is fairly common for what we're seeing at the moment. And one of those contacts was picked up by a Chinese vessel, the Haikou 171, which is out there. But, unfortunately, again, it was just deemed that it was consistent with normal fishing type debris. And this one looks like it was a lot of rope that wasn't in any way connected to MH370.

BLITZER: We spoke a couple days ago to one of your colleagues, Air Commodore Kevin McEvoy, who said they did find one piece of something that they were checking out. Yesterday, when we reconnected with him, he didn't know yet if it was related to the wreckage.

Do you have a final answer on that?

SCOTT: We don't have a final answer. But the actual item was a breadbasket that you would see at a grocery store. Now, of course, any in-flight rations, food that was on the aircraft or anything that was in the car (INAUDIBLE) has to be meticulously checked to go and make sure whether or not it can actually be ruled out. And in this case, that's still with the authorities to go and compare for the cargo manifests.

BLITZER: So they're still looking at that. It's still an open question.

And as far as the oil slick that we understand it's now back on the ground in Perth, at a laboratory. They're looking to see if it actually came from the airliner.

Any word on that?

SCOTT: So, no word on that yet through our (INAUDIBLE) sources, either, Wolf. At the end of the day, it did appear to be a different substance to what you would find in heavy oil that's on fishing vessels or our normal shipping type activities. But at the end of the day, that will all, again, be meticulously checked to make sure that it can or can't be actually ruled out as part of the MH370. It's painstaking work. We have to make sure, of course, that all of those leads are followed up. And whether or not they can actually be ruled out, will, of course, be revealed in due course.

BLITZER: The air search, I take it, it will continue, at least for a few more days, is that your understanding?

SCOTT: Yes, that's correct. So there's still other datums that are being searched. So because we still don't have that one point where we can actually locate a vessel, of course, as we talked about before, that hind cast, you know, we're all looking back to go and work out where the point of impact could actually have been, makes this still a very, very difficult task.

So although you've seen those search areas move over the last 41 days, there's still other areas that are being looked at at the moment. And until those are exhausted, we remain committed to the search.

BLITZER: Commander, hold on for a moment.

I want to bring back Peter Goelz.

You think it's a waste of time, this air search right now, or just another few days won't any difference?

GOELZ: I don't think a few days will make any difference. But I think it's time to shut that down. It hasn't been productive. We got into it too late.

BLITZER: You agree? FUENTES: Yes.

BLITZER: So how frustrating, Commander, is it to you and your men and women who are involved in this search, not only from the New Zealand, but Australia, from the United States, the other countries who are involved, how frustrating is it now, day 41, and still not even a tiny piece of wreckage from that plane?

SCOTT: Well, I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't frustrating not to find something. Of course, that's everyday that guys and girls go out with the hope of actually finding something. And, of course, there's an inherent amount of frustration every time nothing is found.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that there will be something there somewhere. And so, of course, while we can make a contribution to that search, it's very important that we do so. And we do remain committed to doing that.

BLITZER: On a scale of one to 10, Air Commander, Wing Commander, I should say, on a scale of one to 10, 10 being 100 percent, what number would you give to the notion that the underwater search right now is at least in the right area?

SCOTT: On a scale of one to 10, I would be putting it up there. Certainly, there hasn't been a smoking gun found yet that can go and tie that evidence to that. And until something is actually seen, we're not going to have that.

But with all of the indications that we've got, with all of the evidence that we've had, this is the best lead that we have. And, of course, the way to go and find that is that underwater search, which, as we know, is going to take a great many days and weeks ahead of us to go and get there.

BLITZER: So you're saying an eight or a nine based on, what, the pings that came from what's believed to be at least one or two of those -- one of those two black boxes, is what you base it on?

Or -- and I suspect this is a sensitive question -- is there other secret information that you and others have obtained that's pointing you in that direction and that location?

SCOTT: So (INAUDIBLE) what's being shared with us is very similar to what you're seeing in the media. There are no extra pieces of information that we are working off, because, of course, all of the search areas that are there is all being fed from information from that joint international investigative team.

So it has to be very much a situation where everyone is cooperating to go and make sure the most up to date information is being used.

I would love to be able to put a figure on it for you, Wolf, but unfortunately, I don't have all of that information myself. So it would just be pure speculation on my part.

BLITZER: All right, Andy Scott, wing commander, Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Thanks very much for joining us.

We'll check back with you and your colleagues, of course, tomorrow -- is there -- Pamela, is there one piece of information investigators you're talking to here in Washington really want that they don't have yet, other than, obviously, some wreckage?

BROWN: I mean, that's really what they keep saying to me. They keep driving that point home, Wolf, is that look, right now, I mean, the investigation continues, but at some point, it seems -- it seems like they sort of hit a dead end, as far as researching the backgrounds of the passengers and the crews. There just isn't anything jumping out at them. So they're waiting for that black box to give them more clues.

And as far as this, you know, new information we've been talking about the cell-phone ping, this isn't something that investigators are necessarily jumping up and down about. Just to put it in perspective, because it doesn't give that key information, a motive, and what happened here.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by. We're going to follow the breaking news. Much more coming up on Flight 370. The mystery continues, setbacks with the Bluefin-21 raising new questions about why other potentially more effective underwater subs aren't being used. And we're also taking a closer look at the options.

And troubling questions to a story we broke here first in THE SITUATION ROOM. Did the U.S., the U.S. intelligence community, the Defense Department, completely miss a shocking and massive al Qaeda meeting?


BLITZER: We're following new developments with the unmanned American submersible, the Bluefin-21, widely seen, at least for now, as the best hope for finding Malaysian Flight 370. Right now, it's once again scouring the bottom of the Indian Ocean, but two -- two -- disappointing setbacks have some wondering whether other devices should also be deployed.

Brian Todd is here with this part of the story. So what's the latest with the Bluefin-21, its third trip down?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have new information tonight about the Bluefin-21. We have heard this particular vehicle cost $3.5 million. But in those first two days of deployment, two glitches bit the Bluefin-21.


TODD (voice-over): Sources close to the operation tell CNN the latest glitch with the Bluefin-21 was minor: low oil pressure in a chamber that protects part of the Bluefin's electronics. They say it was quickly fixed, and the Bluefin was sent back down. But it still cost at least five hours of search time.

On Monday, the Bluefin cut short a mission on its own, when it started to move toward depths beyond its range. That time it finished only a third of its search.

ROB MCCALLUM, OCEAN SEARCH SPECIALIST: The troubling thing at the moment is that we have all of our eggs in one basket, and that basket is operating at the very edge of its operational parameters.

TODD: That's leading experts to question why the Bluefin is the only device searching the Indian Ocean. There are other similar vehicles with better depth capability. The Remus 6000 is also an autonomous underwater vehicle but can go 3.7 miles down, about a mile deeper than the Bluefin.

The U.S. Navy has those but says they're deployed on military missions and are not available.

There's also this device called the Orion, a towed vehicle that has side scan sonar. It, too, can go a mile deeper than the Bluefin. The only problem, multiple sources say it's sitting in a warehouse in Maryland disassembled.

MICHAEL DEAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, SALVAGE AND DIVING, U.S. NAVY: It is ready and it's available, but the Orion has not been requested and not been tasked.

TODD: So why haven't the search coordinators in Australia asked for a vehicle which can go deeper, especially when there are apparently parts of the search area deeper than the Bluefin's range?

They haven't responded to that specific question from CNN. But have said this.

ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CHIEF: At the moment, it looks like the Bluefin-21 is more than adequate for the task.

TODD: But experts say time is working against the search teams. No underwater audio signals have been detected for over a week. And the sometimes brutal winter in the southern hemisphere is now quickly approaching.

MCCALLUM: So as the weather deteriorates, because AUVs need to go through this daily cycle of launch, descend, search, ascend, recovery, and download, that forces them to be exposed to the weather twice a day.


TODD: A towed system like the Orion can stay down and operate much longer. A source close to the operation defends the Bluefin-21 saying, quote, "It's absolutely the best piece of equipment for the job we are doing." But Wolf, that same source says they may recalibrate that particular Bluefin in the Indian Ocean to go further down, to go more than three miles down, which would be about a half mile further than it can go now. BLITZER: It may be the extent of its range, too, right?

TODD: That's right. That's right. They may tweak it to go a little bit further.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thank you.

Well, let's get some more now with oceanographer Ellen Prager. Ellen, this is the second, as you know, aborted mission. They're now in the third, the Bluefin-21. Is it too early to say this has been a failure?

ELLEN PRAGER, OCEANOGRAPHER: Well, I don't think it's been a failure at all. You know, as I've said before, working in the ocean is a very difficult task, and almost always things go wrong. You have technical glitches, weather problems. I think this is really par for the course. I don't see this as a failure at all. Just needs some tweaking.

BLITZER: So if this third mission comes back and they say, "You know what? It didn't work exactly the way they -- that we wanted it to work. We're going to try it again," you still wouldn't think it's a failure? You still are not ready to send in other submersible equipment down there to try to map out the bottom of the floor of the Indian Ocean?

PRAGER: Well, common sense says I would be looking at other equipment right now and hopefully get this back in the water. You know, you might not be able to get its full track, the full endurance of its batteries on each track. But again, that would mean it would be operating perfectly if you had 16 hours of a track line working.

So, you know, on the side, I'd be getting ready, looking at whether assets are available, but I would still stick with the Bluefin for now. It's out there. You've got the team of experts working with it. They are collecting data, maybe not as fast as all we would like, but they are collecting data, and hopefully, they can get back going on track again soon.

BLITZER: Yes. So far the data they've collected and they've reviewed it hasn't shown anything significant, but they're beginning that process of mapping out that ocean floor.

What's the biggest concern you think the operators of the Bluefin-21 have right now?

PRAGER: Well, you know, as we've heard, they're operating at their depth limit. So they've got crushing pressure, freezing cold, dark. You know, they have to be worried about seawater getting inside, the hull compressing. All of those things on a very complicated system make it very difficult to work under those conditions.

So, you know, we always like to say when you're out on the ocean, seawater and electronics not a very good mix. So they've got very difficult conditions and a very complex piece of machinery to work with. BLITZER: Ellen is going to be back in our next hour. Stand by, Ellen. We're going to have a lot more as far as the search for Flight 370. That's coming up a little bit later.

Up next, we're following a major story. Our Barbara Starr broke it right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. She has new information about what the CIA's trying to learn from this video of a secret -- a secret al Qaeda meeting.

Later, frightening stories of escape from a capsized ferry. Hundreds of passengers are missing.


BLITZER: We will have more on the mystery of Flight 370 in just a little bit.

But we're following up right now on a very important story we first told you about right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. New questions are being asked about a recent gathering of terrorists, including the number two man in al Qaeda. Did the United States even know the meeting was taking place?

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, broke the story, has been working her sources to get more answers.

What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a senior U.S. intelligence official tells me that, in the last several months, al Qaeda in Yemen, this very dangerous group, has changed their communications.

They're staying off the Internet, they're staying away from cell phones, and all of that, Wolf, is raising serious questions. Why did they go so public in this videotape?


STARR (voice-over): U.S. intelligence experts have examined every frame of the video, showing nearly 100 al Qaeda fighters meeting in Yemen. They're trying to figure out if they're missing any signs of plotting for an attack against the U.S.

CNN was the first to broadcast this, the intelligence community trying to identify blurred faces, and asking if they are being sent to attack the U.S. Analysts are also looking at the flashy white truck leaving the convoy. Who had money to pay for it? The expensive camera, even paying attention to the fruit juice being served.

None of the suspected terrorists appear worried about a U.S. drone strike. The rarely seen al Qaeda leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi takes time greet fighters who recently broke out of jail. It's a sunny day with a dark shadow.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It's quite an extraordinary event, the leadership taking a big risk in doing this. But they clearly felt for propaganda purposes that it was worth taking the risk. They wanted to get the message across that they're a group still in business.

STARR: U.S. officials tell CNN each image is a piece of intelligence about the group the U.S. calls the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate.

Most worrisome, on the right, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen and number two for al Qaeda worldwide. He was a personal aide to Osama bin Laden. In the video, he vows to attack the U.S. On the left, Ibrahim al-Rubaish, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, now the group's main theologian.

The U.S. believes the video was shot in March, just weeks after the U.S. government warned airlines to watch for terrorists attempting to hide explosives in shoes.

MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: They have tried to build explosives that can get around security. We have been concerned about that for many years now.

STARR: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee telling Wolf Blitzer, the group has gone underground in their communications, even as plotting may have increased.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The more they believe that they can get away with plotting, planning, organizing, as you saw there, finance, training, all of the things that they need to do to strike a Western target, they're going through that process, including, by the way, bringing very sophisticated people to devise new devices that would try to get around security protocols at airports and other places.


STARR: So, why not a U.S. drone strike? Well, President Obama's new rules would have required the U.S. to show that every person on that videotape was a direct threat to the United States.

But why not a drone strike against Wuhayshi when he was perhaps in a vehicle coming or going from that meeting? What the U.S. Intelligence community will not say, Wolf, is whether they knew about the meeting in advance, or did they even have a drone close enough to act on it when they did find out about it, Wolf?

BLITZER: They'd like to keep al Qaeda guessing, I guess, as far as that is concerned. Excellent reporting, Barbara. Thank you very much.

Let's bring in our national security analyst Peter Bergen, who spent many years studying these kinds of things.

What do you think? Did the U.S., the intelligence community know about, but made a deliberate decision not to send a drone with a Hellfire missile and start killing some of those terrorists? PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I can't imagine that they knew about this meeting. After all, there have been several drone attacks in Yemen this year. There was one on April 1.

It's not like the drone program has been suspended. And as Barbara pointed out, you know, if they knew about it, this guy came to the meeting, he also left the meeting. So, he wasn't surrounded by hundreds of other people. And, by the way, the hundreds of other people he's surrounded with are not civilians. They don't appear to be civilians.

It seems to me we don't know for a fact that they did or did not know about this meeting, but common sense would suggest that they missed it.

BLITZER: You heard Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tell me yesterday that a leak to the news media about a year or so ago may have undermined U.S. intelligence capabilities as far as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, their operations in Yemen right now.

What do you make of that?

BERGEN: Well, I think it's true, Wolf. I have heard the same from senior U.S. officials.

There was a story, you may recall, about a spy who was inside al Qaeda, he was controlled by Saudi intelligence. It came out. And that basically meant that the U.S. lost, you know, eyes and ears inside al Qaeda. And I think the intelligence community is sort of on the back foot as a result.

BLITZER: Yes, this master bomb maker, al-Asiri, and you spent some time studying him, we don't believe he was there in Yemen.

He's someplace else. Some people had their faces blurred, and some people were wearing masks. Do you believe he was there?

BERGEN: I don't know. I have talked to a senior U.S. official who thinks that he's on the Saudi-Yemeni border, which is very remote. It's part of the -- near the empty border. It's the largest desert in the world. He is using couriers. He has completely gone to ground.

BLITZER: This was high-definition resolution, beautiful video that was posted on YouTube by al Qaeda with faces shown.

Why -- would they do this simply to try to use it as a propaganda tool to recruit terrorists down the road? Is that their main goal right now?

BERGEN: Yes, to show that we're here, we're still in operation to recruit people. And, clearly, it's not just a bomb maker that we're concerned about. It's other people that he's -- you know, that he's instructed with these techniques. This group's still potentially a pretty virulent threat, unfortunately. BLITZER: And the Obama administration, the president of the United States makes it clear he's ready to give that order to use those Hellfire missiles on those drones to kill terrorists, but he wants specific information.

All right, thanks very much for that, Peter Bergen, reporting for us.

And once again Barbara Starr doing some excellent reporting for us as well.

Up next, we're going live to South Korea, where survivors are telling harrowing stories about the screams, the chaos after that ferry capsized. We're also watching the chaos unfolding right now in Ukraine, tanks and armored vehicles seized by pro-Russian militants. Will NATO's decision to beef up its forces make any difference at all?


BLITZER: Our special coverage of the mystery of Flight 370 will continue shortly.

But, right now, rescue crews are desperately trying to find some 300 people missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea. Survivors are telling harrowing stories of escaping the frigid waters and screams amid all of the chaos.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live on an island off the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula with the very latest.

What is the latest, Paula?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is an absolutely heartbreaking scene here.

We're just in Jindo, which just on the southwestern tip of South Korea, and the sunken ship is basically 20 kilometers away from here, and this is where many relatives are gathering. They have been here all night. They are just basically sitting and standing by the side of the water, looking out across the water to see if they can see anything.

They can't see anything. But this is all they can do to sit here and wait for news about their loved ones, many of them waiting for news about children, one woman I spoke to waiting for anything on her 16- year-old daughter. She cannot believe, she said, that she is lost.

Now, what we're seeing also is that some of the families are being taken out by the coast guard to see the scenery. This is making them even more angry. They're coming back saying, this is not a rescue operation. This is just a search operation.

We saw some very dramatic rescue on Wednesday, though it's now Thursday morning local time. It's not necessarily the case that many survivors will be found now, experts saying that two hours is the limit that you can survive in these icy waters. We're also, Wolf, hearing more information about what exactly happened when the ship started to list. There are reports from eyewitnesses, from survivors saying that they were told not to get on the deck, but to stay put. Let's listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There was an announcement telling us to sit still on the ferry, but the ferry was already sinking. Some of the students were not able to escape.

The ferry started to list, so we asked if we should escape now. But the announcement kept telling us to stay still.


HANCOCKS: And the divers, we know, are under way at the moment, civilian divers as well as the navy divers, trying to find whatever they can -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula, stand by, because I know you are going to have more in our next hour, Paula Hancocks reporting. What a horrible story that is.

Just ahead: The head of the CIA has visited now Ukraine, but should the U.S. do more to help fight those pro-Russian militants? Can anything rein in Vladimir Putin right now?

And at the top of the hour, we will have the latest on the aerial and the undersea search for any sign of Flight 370.


BLITZER: We'll get back to the search for Flight 370 in a few minutes. But we're also following today's rush of developments in Ukraine, where government tanks and armored vehicles moved in on pro- Russian protesters today. But in at least one case the protesters actually ended up with the vehicles.

The video posted on social media shows one armored personnel carrier doing doughnuts, carrier doing doughnuts in the city street.

Let's bring in chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. There, the donut is right there.

Jim, tell us the latest of what's going on because this crisis is clearly escalating with an enormous amount of sensitive information and lives actually at stake.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question, Wolf. And a stumbling start, at best, it is much publicized, Ukrainian offensive against pro-Russian militants inside its own territory perhaps, signaling divisions in Kiev over how far to push this military action in light of possible Russian response. And it comes as tensions are rising more broadly, NATO bolstering its forces along its entire eastern frontier with Ukraine and Russia. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Kiev's counteroffensive in eastern Ukraine stalled just as it started. In Slavyansk, pro-Russian militants swarmed Ukrainian armored vehicles waving the Russian flag, protesters in Kramatorsk blocked a column of Ukrainian armored vehicles rolling into that city. Ukraine's defense ministry later forced to admit the vehicles had been seized by Russian's foreign militants. Even as it faltered, Russia's foreign minister calls the Ukrainian's military attempted crackdown illegal.

Translator: We'll ease the situation. We will make it so that the government in Kiev views with respect the opinions and demands of Ukrainian citizens who live in the southeast.

SCIUTTO: Russian president Vladimir Putin has warned that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. The U.S. continues to place the blame for the instability firmly on Moscow.

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESWOMAN: Any destabilization that's going on inside Ukraine right now is a direct result of Russian action there, so it's ironic to me that they seem concerned about the stability of Ukraine when they're the ones trying to destabilize massive parts of it.

SCIUTTO: NATO's chief announced the alliance is beefing up its forces in member nations neighboring Ukraine. A show of force meant to deter Moscow and reassure Kiev.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We will have more planes in the air. More ships on the water. And more readiness on the land.

SCIUTTO: Still, director of National Intelligence James Clapper in Tampa for an intelligence agency conference conceded it is hard to assess exactly what Vladimir Putin is up to.

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We do not know what's happening inside President Putin's head. That's not a secret we can capture with any intelligence discipline. It's a mystery that would require clairvoyance to know.


SCIUTTO: NATO will be conducting more air sorties over the Baltics and the north. They'll be deploying more ships to the Baltics as well as to the eastern Mediterranean and more troops all along that eastern border with NATO allies, along the border with Ukraine and Russia.

It's uncertain what effects this will have on the diplomatic tract. You have Secretary of State John Kerry traveling to Geneva, he's going to meet the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, and Russian and Ukrainian officials meeting face to face in those talks for the first time since this latest crisis began.

You know, the administration's preference, Wolf, is still very much the diplomatic track where you have these military moves. You also have the administration and its European allies now talking about further economic sanctions against Russia.

BLITZER: Yes, they're clearly plotting something.

Thanks very much for that, Jim Sciutto, reporting.

So what kind of meaningful help can the United States give Ukraine? And can it do anything really to stop any potential aggression by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin?

Joining us here in the SITUATION ROOM is Eli Lake, the senior national security correspondent for the "Daily Beast."

You wrote an important -- co-wrote an important article in the "Daily Beast" talking about the CIA director's recently secret visit that turned out not to be so secret to Kiev to meet with Ukrainian leaders, sharing intelligence with Ukraine is a sensitive, sensitive matter. Tell us why.

ELI LAKE, SR. NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, it's sensitive because the traditional channel for intelligence sharing is with Ukrainian military. The Ukrainian military until February was a very close partner with the Russian military and that goes for their security services and the Russian intelligence services. So the assumption is on the part of the U.S. intelligence agency is that anything that is given especially that's very detailed would reveal sources and methods, and would end up very quickly back in Moscow.

And that's a real problem. So what's being discussed now is a kind of real time intelligence sharing between the U.S. government, and the political leadership, the interim government in Kiev that would sort of bypass what is seen as the compromise military channel.

BLITZER: Because the U.S. has to assume that virtually all of the Ukrainian military establishment and presumably intelligence establishment is effectively penetrated by Russia.

LAKE: Well, penetrated, I mean, they were very -- they were effectively allies until, you know, February. So, you know, but, yes, that is -- I think that that is the working assumption. And that's why everyone's been very reluctant in terms of giving more detailed information. On the other hand, there is a force of at least 40,000 camped out on Ukraine's border.

BLITZER: Russian troops.

LAKE: Russian troops. There have been these spies and saboteurs or Spetsnaz that have infiltrated the eastern Ukraine similar to the attack that we saw in Crimea. That is the kind of information that would be invaluable to the Ukrainians as they try to mount this counteroffensive and that is the view of some such General Breedlove, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

BLITZER: And the same fear of sharing intelligence information with Ukraine, the same reason I think is the fear of the U.S. providing weapons to Ukraine. Even defensive weapons. Because they could wind up in the wrong hands.

LAKE: Yes, and the two things kind of go hand in hand. If you provide information that's too tactical, then there's a chance, at least, that the Ukrainians could launch a kind of preemptive strike. It seems unlikely given the fact that they are severely outmatched by the Russians. If that would happen, it would certainly provoke the war that they hope doesn't happen in that respect. But nonetheless, that has been a concern.

BLITZER: Anything special expected to emerge from Vice President Biden's visit there? He's going this weekend.

LAKE: I'm not going on that visit. But I know that Vice President Biden going there is very -- it's very symbolically significant. It's a way of saying that the West stands with Ukraine at this point. And you're seeing it with these new assets being deployed that Jim Sciutto talked about and potentially these new sanctions as a way of sort of trying to create the deterrence with Russia while also giving him an exit ramp.

BLITZER: Eli Lake reporting for us. Thanks very much.

LAKE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, the air search for Malaysia Flight 370 about to resume, but these could be the final days. We're going live to Perth, Australia for the very latest.

And we're also live in South Korea right now with the latest on that deadly ferry disaster. Passengers, they are sharing gripping stories of survival.