Return to Transcripts main page


Severe Weather; Arizona Wildfire; Terror Worries

Aired May 22, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And a popular resort area threatened by a raging wildfire. Evacuations are now under way. CNN is in the hot zone.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news this hour.

We're following the severe weather hitting parts of the country right now.

We're just getting in these dramatic pictures from suburban Maryland outside of Washington and Baltimore.

Let's go to our severe weather expert, Chad Myers.

Look at this destruction in this area right here, Chad. Tell our viewers what we know.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We know that this was likely a tornado from the twisted treetops.

Now, the Weather Service will go out there and give us a true designation whether there was a tornado on the ground or not. But this certainly looks like it to me. I'm looking and talking to all the meteorologists here, saying the twisted treetops very indicative of a twist in the wind, not a straight-line wind.

Now, there are a lot of trees down all in the same direction. I get that. And that could have just been an outflow boundary later on in the storm knocking trees down. But this is not that far south of Dover in Delaware, probably somewhere near Riverview, hard to tell until they zoom out, I can see the pictures.

But as they zoom in, you can see the destruction that happened to that house. No idea if that was a stick-built house or was it a modular home, but the more and more I zoom into it, that was a pretty direct hit from at least a couple-hundred-mile-per-hour -- 100 -- maybe 120-mile-per-hour storm, if it was a true stick-built home.

The designation, EF-1, EF-2, EF-3, obviously wind speed, but truly damage scale, how much damage is created by the wind, itself, by the tornado, itself, Wolf. BLITZER: You know, Chad, hold on for a moment. I want to listen to this WBAL -- WBAL chopper pilot describe what he's seeing near Dover, Delaware.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, there's more than a couple dozen pieces of rescue gear and equipment from fire department along with Delaware State Police.

They have pretty much been going house to house checking. We haven't heard any reports of injuries. We haven't seen any of the medic units tending to anybody. But they're just checking the entire neighborhood here, because trees are literally knocked down, and they're in all different directions. The tops of them have been snapped like twigs. Some of them have been uprooted and some of them are going -- pointing to the east. Some are pointing to the West. Some are pointing north.

So it looks like something touched down here. And there's a path that goes about a mile, maybe a mile-and-a-half long of damage in this neighborhood down here. So we're monitoring the situation as best we can. As we get more information, we will update you, reporting live in Sky Team 11, I'm Captain Roy Taylor.

BLITZER: All right, so, Chad, what do you think, based on that eyewitness account, that chopper pilot giving us a pretty good description of the damage?

MYERS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Looks like tornado-related damage.

MYERS: No question about it.

And he has a perfect perspective looking down on the damage and seeing those trees either this way, this way, or this way. And depending on the rotation of the storm, obviously, the storms on the right side, the trees here, all the winds blowing that way, those trees will be knocked down this way. The trees on the other side will be knocked down in this direction as the storm moves on by.

And the storm did move right to the south of Dover, and now it's going to move offshore. It looks like it just probably is going to be here off the beaches here, probably Dewey Beach as it runs offshore, no more tornado warning on that storm, but there are still tornado warnings in effect tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: See what the damage is out there, a lot of folks getting ready to head out to that beach area this Memorial Day weekend as well.

MYERS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, Chad, thanks very much.

Other news we're following right now, some of America's most critical and well-protected sites may be even more at risk of a devastating attack than we always realized by terrorists, deranged gunmen, or hackers.

We're covering several startling new reports that expose serious security problems affecting power and water supplies, federal buildings, and nuclear missile bases.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's following a shocking failure at a nuclear missile site.

What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, look, there's no question about it. The majority of Air Force personnel that manage this nation's nuclear weapons do their jobs very well.

But, indeed, as you say, a shocking new failure has emerged.


STARR (voice-over): At a nuclear missile site, terrorists infiltrate. Security forces struggle to respond, and fail. It was all a test last summer here at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. Security personnel at a nuclear missile silo failed a crucial exercise in keeping control of their silo and a simulated capture of a nuclear weapon.

The cover of this 17-page report doesn't even begin to tell of what's inside. It sounds like a shocking failure in military security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one, turn.

STARR: The finding? Security personnel failed to take all lawful actions necessary to immediately regain control of nuclear weapons.

The result? The Air Force team may not have been able to prevent theft, damage, sabotage, destruction, or detonation of a nuclear weapon.

Former Air Force Missileer Jeffrey Green says it's likely someone didn't follow procedure.

JEFFREY GREEN, FORMER AIR FORCE MISSILEER: What it doesn't mean is that there was any physical loss of control or threat of physical loss of control of a nuclear weapon.

STARR: Officially, the Air Force will say nothing. The report only came to light because the Associated Press obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Air Force security group commander was replaced. The unit went through retraining and passed the exercise several weeks later.

Green says standards remain high because there's just no room for failure with the nation's nuclear weapons.

GREEN: I mean, a failure can mean missing a required action by a second. It can mean responding to something, you know, a moment or two late.


STARR: In recent months, the Air Force has been plagued in the nuclear sector with morale problems, disciplinary problems. The issue at hand here, this is a part of the military that operates, perhaps, in the most high-pressure environment. There is no room for failure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Disturbing information, indeed, Barbara. Thank you.

Also, there's now a new investigation of security at federal government buildings and it reveals that some of the people who guard those facilities haven't received important training, including ways to respond to a shooting rampage.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has been working this story.

What are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as we know, threats to federal buildings are rooted in history and lack of security at those buildings is an issue that has been brought up over the years.

But this troubling new report highlights many contracted guards that are supposed to keep the people inside government buildings safe still aren't trained properly to handle the most serious safety threats. We're talking explosions and active shooter situations.

BLITZER: You know, Pamela, as we get ready for this new threat that is out there, I guess a lot of buildings are safe, but what you're reporting now is that there's another failure to protect major federal facilities because guards haven't been well-trained?

BROWN: Yes. That's right. So this is according to the Government Accountability report, Wolf, and essentially it looks at the training of more than 13,000 contracted guards who are stationed at the more than 10,000 federal facilities.

These are buildings where more -- a million and a half visitors, employees go to every day. It's important to make sure those people are safe. And what this report found is that some companies that are paid to train these guards in order to protect these federal buildings aren't training them how to properly look at the X-ray machines, how to scan these X-ray machines and other, you know, devices that are essentially -- that you look at to make sure that the people coming into the buildings aren't bringing in guns or explosions.

So let's take a look now at what else this report says.


BROWN (voice-over): Just over two years ago, a wild double shooting at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Long Beach, California, and the first line of defense, Federal Protective Service guards.

Now a disturbing new report finds many of the guards like those in charge of safeguarding the more than 1.5 million employees and visitors each day to the nearly 10,000 government buildings nationwide lack even the most basic security skills.

And millions of taxpayer dollars are spent each year paying companies to supply the more than 13,000 contract security guards. It's an issue that's taking center stage on Capitol Hill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest threat right now is explosives. OK?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I don't see a lot of them. Do you have a lot of them out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not explosive detection devices, no, sir. What we do is...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See, I think you're missing the boat there.

BROWN: The Federal Protective Services says it only has 74 bomb- sniffing dogs on hand. And one company admits 38 percent of its 350 guards never received proper training on how to use X-ray machines and metal detectors, according to the report.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do have concerns that remain and that have remained for a number of years now, as you know, about the ability and possibility of bombs and other kinds of weapons getting into federal facilities.

BROWN: One of the biggest threats to security, shootings like the one at the Navy Yard in D.C., last year. But the report shows many contracted guards at federal buildings lack basic training and clear direction during active shooter situations.

Just how much training they're lacking isn't even properly tracked.


BROWN: And the director of the Federal Protective Service says it's working with other government security agencies to develop best practices and he says it remains committed to being transparent and proactive with providing the GAO and Congress regular updates on the steps taken to enhance, integrate and transform FPS.

But, of course, Wolf, we will stay on top of this story.

BLITZER: I hope you do. And I hope they get their act together. Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

And this just coming in: The secretary of veterans affairs, Eric Shinseki, just released a letter to veterans responding to an exploding scandal and calls for his resignation, Shinseki noting that -- the allegations of misconduct by his employees first reported by CNN involving delays in treatment and deaths while patients were waiting for care.

He writes this to the veterans: "You and your families deserve to have full faith in your VA and we intend to earn it every day." Shinseki goes on to write about his work on behalf of veterans, but he then adds this. "Notwithstanding these accomplishments, VA will do even better. If any allegations under review are substantiated, we will act" -- that just in from Secretary Shinseki.

Still ahead: America's power and water supplies at risk. We have new confirmation that a utilities control system has been hacked.

And we will go live to the scene of a huge wildfire now threatening a popular resort area. Evacuations are now under way.


BLITZER: We're learning about another shocking lapse in security that could put millions of Americans in danger. Hackers recently broke into the computer network of a popular utility right here in the United States. And it's driving home fears that our power and water supplies are vulnerable to attack.

Brian Todd has been looking into this story for us.

What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, new information tonight from Homeland Security officials. They say hackers were able to take advantage of a lack of cyber-security at a utility and tapped into the system more than once.

It stoked fears of possible blackouts, water contamination and other major disruptions.


TODD (voice-over): An electrical generator's motor self- destructs triggered by a cyber-attack. This was a U.S. government exercise. But what happened recently to an American public utility was real. Hackers successfully breached a utility's computer network.

The Department of Homeland Security won't identify the company or the type of utility. Experts say it could have been a water treatment plant, a gas pipeline or a power station.

(on camera): What could they have done? What could they have knocked out?

FRANK CILLUFFO, DIRECTOR, CYBERSECURITY INITIATIVE: When you look at this particular utility, multiply that by many orders of magnitude, and, yes, had you taken a substation out, which we don't have here, that would have massive disruption in a community and potentially in a much broader region. TODD: An official tells us the Department of Homeland Security worked with the company to repel the hack and no operations were disrupted. Officials won't say who they think the hackers were, but it's the type of threat that can wreak havoc on a country. A massive power outage was depicted in "American Blackout," a recent drama on The National Geographic Channel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The current blackout is the result of a cyber-attack.

CILLUFFO: The sugar daddy of all, the most critical of our critical infrastructure, is electric and energy and our grid, because everything else to one extent or another is dependent upon that.

TODD: Like water, sewage, telecommunications. Last year, a power substation in Silicon Valley was targeted, but not by hackers. Snipers blasted away at that facility. They still haven't been caught. Security expert Frank Cilluffo says America's enemies have mapped its infrastructure for cyber-attack.

Rival governments have that capability and terrorists can develop it with some help.

CILLUFFO: My biggest concern is actually an insider threat, someone who works for a particular company and then can share information with those on the outside to get more precise in their targeting.


TODD: Cilluffo says the government cannot stop all these attacks, but it can give private companies intelligence to help fend them off and that appears to be what happened here. But hackers are not going to stop trying. Homeland Security officials say last year they responded to 256 cyber-incident reports, more than half of them in the energy sector -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You got information on how these hackers were actually able to breach these utility companies' systems?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Homeland Security officials tell us they got into it through what they call an Internet facing host. According to them, that's a system that's accessible from home or another remote location. E-mail systems can allow them to do that and other systems similar to that. So they can access it remotely and the way they depicted it to us, it wasn't all that hard.

BLITZER: I want you to stay with us, because we have cyber- security analyst Richard Bejtlich here with us.

Richard, how vulnerable are the U.S. power grids?

RICHARD BEJTLICH, FIREEYE: Well, the problem we see with these cases are, these systems are connected to the Internet.

And when you have a system that's connected to the Internet, that means anyone around the world who has Internet connectivity as well can reach it. And that's what's struck me in these two reports that were listed, actually three. Each system was able to be accessed remotely through the Internet.

BLITZER: So, how do you deal with that?

BEJTLICH: Disconnect them.

The problem is, we don't seem to have any regulation around that. Some of the regulation was based around the old telephone system, dialing up via modem. And the regulations haven't updated to address...


BLITZER: Do you believe they're doing enough to deal with this problem potentially out there? Because it could be a nightmare if they get into these utility systems.

BEJTLICH: Honestly, these utilities need to take a look and see what do they have connected to the Internet? They have done it for cost reasons, for making it easy to administer these systems. But in the cases that we have seen, guest usernames and passwords and in some cases no username or password is needed to access these systems.

BLITZER: You have got a question for Richard.

TODD: Right.

Richard, how proficient are government security, cyber-security experts at tracking these hackers back through the system and actually trying to catch them almost to the point of attack, where they started?

BEJTLICH: Well, there was a code in that first announcement from DHS today.

They used the term sophisticated threat actor. That didn't refer to what they did. What they did was guess a username and password. That's very easy. The sophisticated part probably referred to the fact that it was a nation state. So, they're worried about the actor, not necessarily the act in this case.

BLITZER: When you say a nation state, it wasn't just some random American hackers, if you will. It was a foreign government that wanted to hack into a utility system in the United States?

BEJTLICH: That's how I read that. And we have had those sorts of warnings before, and we have to be careful to differentiate between things that would be accessed by a nation state and others that are just kids fooling around.

BLITZER: Can you make something 100 percent hack-proof?

BEJTLICH: No, nothing is 100 percent hack-proof. But, honestly, this is a very low bar to jump over, to get those systems off the Internet.

BLITZER: You got another question?

TODD: And these nation states, Richard, we have told who they are, likely China, probably Iran. Have they kind of voiced a desire to attack U.S. infrastructure and a capability of doing that?

BEJTLICH: There's certainly a capability there.

There's a little bit of a motive. But the problem for them is we have a massive response that we could use. We would not use the Internet to respond to an attack that would cause damage to lives or property. We'd use the military.


BLITZER: It would be amazing retaliation, if that were proved.

Richard Bejtlich, thanks very much.

Brian Todd, good report. Thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, we will go live to the scene of a wildfire that's spreading through a popular area for tourists and retirees. We are going to get the latest on the evacuations now under way and the danger to homes. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news, a huge wildfire raging out of control in Arizona right now. It's exploded in size. It's now threatening hundreds of homes and resort cabins near Sedona. That's a popular area for tourists and evacuees. Some evacuations are under way right now.

CNN's Ana Cabrera is joining us from the fire zone.

What's the latest, Ana?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this fire still holding at about 5,000 acres, but it's zero percent contained. The winds are really kicking up this afternoon, and it was this time yesterday where we saw this fire just explode.

You can see the brown cloud behind me, but we're seeing the smoke cloud really kind of thin out. It's spreading out because of that wind. And it's moving to the north, pushing the fire, pushing all of those flames that direction as well as they move through this heavy, heavy and dry timber, the ponderosa pine forest that is here and threatening hundreds of homes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's my home, my property, my livelihood, everything. CABRERA: Frank Garrison owns Oak Creek, Arizona's, Butterfly Garden Inn. It's in the now-burning Slide Rock State Park between Sedona and Flagstaff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were able to get all my employees out, my family out, our guests out.

CABRERA: The volatile Slide fire has torched over 4,500 acres and threatening some 3,000 residents. High winds and dry conditions are fueling the blaze in this popular tourist region.

BRADY SMITH, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: The Slide fire had had hit a trigger point where it has burned up Oak Creek Canyon into Pumphouse Wash. Pumphouse Wash is a major drainage that leads directly to Kachina Village.

CABRERA: Residents of Kachina Village scrambled to save their homes, hosing roofs to protect against falling embers, gathering keepsakes and preparing to evacuate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hear it's close. I hear it's coming. Trying to be ahead of the game.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden, your life is torn up and you have to move, all because someone made a really dumb mistake.

CABRERA: Yes, authorities say someone started this fire, whether intentional or accidental still unknown. Firefighters are in force. At least 500 are on the scene today in helicopters and planes and on the front lines.

TONY SCIACCA, SLIDE FIRE INCIDENT COMMANDER: We're working hard to, you know, protect the values at risk out there.


CABRERA: The biggest difference in the past 24 hours has been those resources.

With all of those additional resources moving in from six different states to help in this firefight, we're told that's made a huge difference. And, really, it's the next few hours, really the crux in this firefight, we're told, because once we hit evening, usually, the wind dies down. The fire lies down.

And fire crews are making some good progress, particularly on that north side of the fire and the east side, where those homes are in danger -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So the current conditions are helpful or not so helpful?

CABRERA: Not so helpful at the moment. It's dry, but it's very windy at the moment. And that's what firefighters are most concerned about right now. Those winds can be unpredictable and it was the wind that really pushed the fire forward yesterday. But, again, overnight, early this morning, before the winds kicked up, they were able to make some good progress. They're not saying anything is contained yet, but they said they were doing some back-burns, they were able to lay down fire retardant kind of ahead of the fire.

So they're establishing more of a line, particularly in the area they're most concerned about, but still being conservative and not calling it contained, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will stay in close touch with you, Ana Cabrera in Flagstaff, Arizona.

This note to our viewers: I would like to remind you about a special show coming to CNN. It's a new series from the executive producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, a series entitled "The Sixties." It's the decade that changed the world, space race, the Cold War, free love, civil rights and more. Be sure to watch it or set your DVR for the premiere. That would be next Thursday night 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific only here on CNN.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM. Please be sure to join us again tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Certainly, you can watch us live. DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.