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Massachusetts Hit with Heavy Snow, Flooding; Boston Battered by Epic Storm; Latest Forecast for Monster Blizzard; Report: Computer Glitch a Focus of AirAsia Probe; High Tide Poses New Threat in Massachusetts

Aired January 27, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, coastal calamity. It's high tide in New England, as millions battered by a massive winter storm now face the threat of major flooding. And the snow keeps falling, whipped by near hurricane winds, with some places buried under 30 inches and counting.

Travel meltdown -- another 4,700 fuels canceled today, highways closed, rail service suspended.

Is there an end in sight?

System malfunction -- there's now growing concern that AirAsia Flight 8501 may have been brought down by a computer problem.

Could thousands of other commercial aircraft be at risk?

And Russian spy ring -- coded messages, secret meetings. Two decades after the cold war, the FBI bust an alleged Russian intelligence network in New York City.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Breaking now, the blizzard that just won't quit. It's high tide right now in New England. Millions are threatened with coastal flooding from the epic storm that dumped more than two feet of snow in some places and lashed out with near hurricane winds.

Seven states declared emergencies. This a very dangerous storm still. You can see one example right here, as firefighters battle a wind- whipped blaze in the middle of a blizzard. Snow is still coming down hard in a lot of parts of the region and will keep falling for several more hours. Seven hundred plows are out in Boston right now, which is in the middle of it all and could see record accumulations.

Our correspondents and analysts and newsmakers, they're all standing by.

But let's begin with the very latest.

Brian Todd is on the Massachusetts coast. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fierce winds created whiteout conditions up and down the Northeast Coast.

(on camera): You've got the wind causing whiteout conditions. You've got the tide coming in, causing potential flooding.

(voice-over): We felt it firsthand on the Jersey Shore.

(on camera): The wind is just whipping us in the face from the north to the south.

(voice-over): Along the coastline south of Boston, the National Guard evacuated residents in the town of Marshfield after a 100 foot section of seawall was breached, causing dangerous flooding and damaging homes. A storm surge with huge waves in some places caused extreme flooding.

And then there's the snow.

GOV. CHARLES BAKER (R), MASSACHUSETTS: We fully expect that there are parts of Eastern and Central Massachusetts where people may get as much as another five to 10 inches of snow on top of what they already have.

TODD: But this historic blizzard is not over, still blanketing much of New England in a massive amount of snow. Parts of New England bracing for more than two feet of snow. Connecticut is trying to dig out after receiving more than 20 inches of snow in some areas. And Rhode Island is still being battered by the storm. And the governor is warning everyone to stay off the roads.

GOV. GINA RAIMONDO (D), RHODE ISLAND: Even the highways are not really passable. There is zero visibility.

So my message continues to be as follows. The travel ban is still in effect. We want everybody off the roads.

TODD: This afternoon as we drove along Route 95 from Connecticut into Massachusetts, we experienced extremely difficult road conditions.


BLITZER: That was Brian Todd reporting for us.

Brian, thanks very much.

We're going to get back to you shortly.

Boston, right now, is in the middle of this blizzard and the snow is continuing to fall.

When all is said and done, this storm could rival some of the city's worst.

Let's go live to Boston right now.

CNN's Brooke Baldwin is on the scene for us.

Brooke, set the scene for us in Boston.

What's the latest?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, I'm so mindful of you being from Buffalo, New York.

I'm sure growing up there, you've dealt with a lot of this.

But take a look at this. I mean, I'm honestly losing track of the hours we've been out here. But just, I think it really shows, trudging through this stuff very slowly and carefully. We were here yesterday. It was up to my ankles. And you can see, it's pretty much up to my knees right now.

We heard from the mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, just this afternoon. He gave a news conference and basically was saying the city itself has seen, more or less, two feet of snow.

And I don't know if you can tell, I don't know how it translates, but it is still definitely coming down, just a little bit lighter than it has earlier this afternoon. We've been in it since the morning.

But they were saying people in Boston should anticipate it continuing to come down until 3:00 in the morning. It is possible that Boston will see a record-setting snowfall. I was actually in the Boston area over the weekend. And once this storm really started to percolate, what everyone was talking about was the blizzard of '78. That won't happen as far as the damage, thank goodness, because no one really had as much of a heads-up. But it's the blizzard of 2003.

The floods, that is the story. As you were talking to Brian Todd along Coastal Massachusetts, in the Scituate, Marshfield area, that is really, really the story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brooke, stand by.

We've got the mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh.

He's joining us on the phone right now.

Mayor, are you still in the middle of the severe storm?

Is it almost over?

Set the scene from us, from your perspective.

MAYOR MARTY WALSH (D), BOSTON: Well, I'm watching the local media right now. And it looks like we have a patch of clear skies above us right now. But we're surrounded by more snow coming in and we're expecting another six inches by, I think, 1:00 in the morning, the last report was. And then wind until 4:00 a.m.. So we'll have snow drifts all over the place. So we've made some precautions tomorrow to shut city hall down for tomorrow.

BLITZER: Are you going to...

WALSH: We'll have some emergency personnel in. But we're out there trying to plow the streets and get the main arteries open. They're open, but we're trying to get them curb to curb, so when the workers are in tomorrow, for the majority of Bostonians, they'll be able to get there safely and without much inconvenience.

BLITZER: So, you think, Mayor, you're going to get near that 27-inch record you had back in, what, 1978 and 2003?

You're getting close to that 27 inches, right?

WALSH: Yes. They say we're getting very close to it. And we're going to see what happens. Hopefully, it just moves off the coast. We'll be -- we won't hit the record.

This is one record that I don't want to break. I'd be perfectly happy if the snow was to go out to sea now and allow us the opportunity to do the proper cleanup that we have to here in the city.

BLITZER: So the snow is really going to come down well into the evening, overnight maybe, right?

WALSH: That's what they're saying. And right now in Boston, it's not snowing much right now. There are wind drifts in different parts. It looks like it's snowing. But as of right now, it's not snowing. But they're saying there's going to be another burst of snow that comes to us before the night is over.

BLITZER: We know there's been lots of flooding problems on the Massachusetts coast.

Are you facing any of those problems in Boston?

WALSH: No, not really. There's a couple of roadways in Boston that we've had to shut down, the state has had to shut down over the course of the day. But we -- it's, you know, we're not getting what's happening in Scituate and other places like that, because, you know, the beachfront property in the city of Boston is set back a bit. So we're not getting that type of erosion on the seawalls and that type of gale force winds and the tide pounding in.

But there has been a couple of roads closed. And we'll probably have to close a couple again tonight for a little while.

But, you know, we're not seeing some of the concerns that homeowners have around the Commonwealth.

BLITZER: What about power outages?

WALSH: No, we've been lucky here in the city of Boston. As of the last time I got a report at 3:00, we've only had three homes are without power. And they weren't necessarily due to the storm. We had about 155 last night. We were able to get them back up with emergency generators today. And now I believe we only have three, three in the city of Boston, that I'm aware of.

We didn't get that heavy snow with the rain, so it didn't, you know, the power lines were pretty much in good condition.

BLITZER: And what about the whole notion of the driving in and around Boston?

You've still got -- have you still got restrictions as far as people getting on the streets?

WALSH: Yes, I'm keeping the parking ban in effect until sometime tomorrow so we can get people to get the curbs -- get from curb to curb clean. And the governor of Massachusetts still has the emergency ban in place, no driving. And he's going to probably -- he has a press conference in a little bit and I think he's going to address that there. And our public transportation system is still down right now, because they're to clear the tracks and clear the entryways into the different subway stations. So that's down for now.

I know they're trying to get that open for the morning commute, if they can, or at least the best they can.

BLITZER: What about your schools?

WALSH: Schools are closed tomorrow. And we're going to -- I'm going to make a determination on Thursday, depending on what type of snow removal has to happen. Thursday is really about public safety here in the city. So it's going to be seeing where we are with public safety and do we have enough clearance on the sidewalks for buses to get by?

You know, are those large snow piles that are going to be -- that are really on the corners, will we have enough time tomorrow to remove them before I make a determination there?

BLITZER: And I take it Boston Logan Airport is pretty much closed, is that right?

WALSH: Yes. Logan hasn't had any flights in today. I spoke to Tom Glynn, the director of Massport, a couple of times. So the airport is pretty much down right now. I know they're working over there hard to clear it up. Again, it's -- they're right on the edge of the ocean, so as far as the -- as far as what happens with the snow and then the snow drifts after that, that's where their problems come into play.

BLITZER: And, Mayor, good luck to you in Boston.

Marty Walsh is the mayor of Boston.

We'll stay in close touch.

WALSH: Thank you, Wolf.

Appreciate it. BLITZER: Thank you.

Battered by the blizzard, the Massachusetts coast now facing serious flooding. High tide is just rolling in.

CNN's Alexandra Field is joining us from Scituate in Massachusetts.

It looks pretty bad over there -- Alexandra, what's the latest?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it's gotten absolutely wicked out here in an ironic Boston sort of way. I mean just up this road is the seawall. We were just out there standing there. And even before high tide, these waves were whipping up over that wall, you know, forcing rocks and sand and flooding down into these neighborhoods.

The water, it came rushing down this street earlier today.

This is a neighborhood that totally flooded out. We're talking about basements here that were flooded, four and five feet, the water coming up over the seawall, swirling into this neighborhood and then coming out here onto this street that I'm on and whipping across this street.

On top of these high winds, we have this snow accumulating. But this is really the moment that people in Scituate have been bracing for all day long. They are keeping their eyes on the seawall. You cannot see it because the visibility is so bad out here.

But they are waiting to see if that water comes pouring over that wall with the same kind of force that they saw earlier today. This is a neighborhood that is very prone to flooding. People see this kind of thing all the time, because you've got the harbor on one side and then you've got the ocean on the other side. But they're not used to this kind of flooding. That's what they told us earlier today.

When high tide came this morning, between 4:00 and 5:00, they said that they were just really taken aback by the kind of water that they saw, the volume of the water that they saw, really settling into these neighborhoods.

There are actually people who have decided to stay in their homes on this street. The National Guard came through. They were evacuating people who wanted to go. Police have been coming through here in high axle vehicles. A lot of this road, earlier today, Wolf, was completely impassable, just completely waterlogged. A lot of that water turning into ice and slush now. And then you've got more snow coming down on top of it.

But over the next hour, we should see the effects of what's happening right now, which is the high tide. And we'll see how much of an impression that makes and whether or not that causes even more significant flooding than what people here in Scituate have had to deal with already today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's not just in Scituate. We're told that all along the coast, the Atlantic Coast of Massachusetts, there are flood warnings right now, isn't that right?

FIELD: Yes, absolutely. Down along the southern coast, we're talking about the area that is south and east of Boston heading out toward the Cape. These are these coastal communities which can be very prone to flooding during big storms. It is quite common for these communities, Marshfield, Hull, Scituate, to be on alert and on the watch for flooding to happen, because you get these factors that really combine. You get the high tide coming in, as well as the storm surge. And that's when people end up underwater.

And, you know, again, when you talk to people in Scituate, they have faced this before. So they did take some measures out here to try to prepare for the storm that they're seeing now. They actually cut power to a number of neighborhoods last night in advance of the storm, so that you didn't have problems with downed power lines or the possibility of electrical fires -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, stand by.

We're going to get back to you, Alexandra.

We'll see when that high tide happens and how serious that flooding is going to be. I suspect it's going to be bad.

The storm certainly has absolutely smothered air traffic. Another 4,700 flights have been canceled today.

Let's go live to CNN's aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

She's over at New York's LaGuardia Airport -- Rene, we just heard from the mayor of Boston. Boston's Logan Airport still shut down.

What's going on over there?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeas, well, the runways there are shut down. They're under snow. You mentioned that nearly 5,000 cancellations. That's way more than yesterday. And it's still a ghost town here at LaGuardia.

I mean usually you would see passengers at these kiosks checking in. The conveyor belt not moving at all, no motion. Check out the ticket counters. No one is here. It's pretty much just the media.

We have seen signs of small progress with Spirit Airlines, the only carrier, it appears, at this point, to be operating here out of LaGuardia. I mean take a look. The situation looks a lot like it did yesterday. All of these flights still very much canceled.

But we do know, again, that airlines are starting to resume limited flight operations at some other airports, as well, JFK and Newark, again very limited operations.

As far as when will they be able to get to more of a normal rate, we are hearing from the airlines they are hoping to do that tomorrow.

Now, keep in mind, that doesn't mean that everyone is going to get to their destination tomorrow. However, we will see an increased level of flight activity -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Rene, we're going to get back to you, as well.

Rene is over at LaGuardia in New York.

Up next, an epic storm hammering New England right now. And you heard from the mayor of Boston, not letting up. Several more hours of snowfall. Record snowfall, at least in some places. And now there's coastal flooding that poses another danger.

We're going to get the latest forecast.

Stand by.

And did a computer problem bring down AirAsia Flight 8501?

And could thousands of other commercial aircraft be at risk right now?


BLITZER: These are live pictures from Plum Island, Massachusetts. The snow is obviously still coming down. We heard from the mayor of Boston. It will continue coming down for several more hours. And there are continuing problems caused by this storm, potentially of historic proportions in Massachusetts and other parts of New England. It's still causing heavy snow, high winds, coastal flooding.

Joining us on the phone right now is Brigadier General Gary Keefe of the Massachusetts National Guard. He's the task force commander for the storm.

General, thanks very much for joining us. I know you've got a lot going on. I know the National Guard, your men and women, they rescued some residents earlier today along the Massachusetts shore. How many people were rescued?

BRIGADIER GENERAL GARY KEEFE, MASSACHUSETTS NATIONAL GUARD (via phone): All in all, Wolf, we ended up rescuing about 15 folks in different areas along the coastline within the commonwealth.

BLITZER: What was the problem?

KEEFE: A lot of it was, you know, something, the storm surge and just the winds that caught a few people off-guard, and they ended up -- the roads ended up being flooded, and the folks just ended up being stuck in areas that normal vehicles couldn't get them out of.

So we've got these light/medium tactical vehicles that are great for going into high-water areas and allows us to help people get out of those -- out of harm's way.

BLITZER: As you know, right now it's high tide on the Massachusetts coast. The coastal flood warning is in effect, I think, throughout all of the coast of Massachusetts, at least until 8 p.m. Eastern.

This could get very dangerous. You guys are going to be -- might be more -- might be getting really busy rescuing other folks, right?

KEEFE: Yes, that's -- you're right on that, Wolf. We're now actually refocusing our mission from stranded motor vehicles to high-water rescue missions. So we're looking to reposition our forces, looking along the coastline like you had mentioned, Plum Island, Newbury Port, Hull, Scituate, those areas have really got our interest right now.

BLITZER: You've got enough personnel and equipment?

KEEFE: We do, Wolf. We've got authority by Governor Baker to go to 500. We're sitting at 404 soldiers and airmen right now. And the governor said, if we need more, just -- we'll put the request in. But we're ready to go.

BLITZER: You're approaching, what, at least in the Boston area, getting closer and closer to that record of 27 inches from 1978, 2003. Are you seeing that in other parts of the state? It looks like there's even 30 or 35 inches.

KEEFE: Yes, it's kind of interesting, Wolf. Worcester East really got hammered hard. The western part of the state kind of dodged a bullet on this one. So it's allowed us to kind of move what we had prepositioned on the western part of the state with our soldiers and airmen who were embedded with state police troopers. We've got a great relationship with the Massachusetts State Police. We're not moving those forces far east. We're moving them to the coastline at this point, and we're -- like I said, based on what Governor Baker has got us doing, we're ready to go.

And I heard Mayor Walsh was on a little bit earlier. And they've got things under -- really well in hand in Boston. So we'll get there.

BLITZER: And the temperatures could dip, at least wind chill below zero tonight, right?

KEEFE: It is. It is. And freezing is always going to be an issue. And I can tell you this. I was out on the highways, and you know something? The Massachusetts DOT guys did a great job. Most of the major intersections are cleared.

I just seen [SIC] there where Governor Baker is going to lift the travel ban around midnight tonight. It's been lifted in western Massachusetts.

But I will give the residents of the commonwealth kudos. They did a great job listening to Governor Baker and staying off the road. That made our job and the state police job a lot easier so far.

BLITZER: Brigadier General Gary Keefe of the Massachusetts National Guard, thanks so much. And thank your men and women for what they're doing.

KEEFE: Appreciate the support, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. New England certainly still bearing the brunt of this epic winter storm. It's not over yet. More snow is falling. Millions now face the threat of coastal flooding.

Let's get the latest forecast from our meteorologist and severe weather expert, Chad Myers. What is the forecast, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The forecast is for this snow to continue where it's snowing for probably the next 6 to 12 hours, Wolf. It will start to taper off around Bangor, but there are still areas, still bands of snow coming onshore for Boston.

And now we have a new number in Auburn, Massachusetts, of 32.5 inches of snow and still snowing. So another 6 inches on top of this, and there are some heavy bands still out in the ocean, getting that wrap- around effect here, although it's tapered off slightly in Boston, picking up in Plymouth, picking up in Sandwich, picking up all the way here across parts of the cape.

Here's what the map looks like of how much snow fell. And I want you to remember what it looks like. Remember the contours. Remember what happens here and here and here, because it's important to our new computer model, the American model, because we boast about the European model so much. The American model really kicked on this one. And we'll get to that in a second.

There's the numbers, 32. Look at the wind gusts, Boston, 38 miles per hour, wind chill down there with that kind of wind gust at 5 below zero. And the wind continues all night long. Finally by morning, it pulls away, and Boston, you get down to about 15 miles per hour. You can deal with that.

It still snows for hours and hours. Finally, by about 4 a.m. in the morning, this snow gets up towards Nova Scotia and things dry out for Boston.

Remember that map I showed you? I said remember what it looked like? Now look at what the new American GFS model -- now Wolf, I will say this. The Americans have put, the web service now have put millions of dollars into this improvement, and it certainly was worth it. There's the same contour. There's the same contour. And all of that, New York City about 6 to 10 inches. And that's exactly what we got, and LaGuardia got 11.

The old model looks like this: two feet of snow in New York, and that didn't happen. So now we have one that we can respect.

BLITZER: So now that the American model worked well this time, do we just go with it from now on?

MYERS: I think so. I think absolutely. I mean, you know, you take a Tesla out for a test drive, and you like it, you buy it. I think we took this thing out for a test drive this week, and it works right on the money.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Chad Myers reporting for us. Thank you.

We have much more ahead on the storm emergency. There's new video, updated reports that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. More snow on the way right now.

Plus, we're also getting new information about who was operating that drone, yes, that drone that crash-landed on the White House grounds?


BLITZER: Take a look at these live pictures from Massachusetts. This is Plum Island along the Massachusetts coast, where it's obviously a serious situation. Coming up we're going to have much more on the snow and coastal flooding emergencies, from Boston to upper New England, Boston's mayor calling it a storm of historic proportions. That was just as bad as forecasters have predicted, at least in the Boston area.

Brian Todd is joining us also right now. He's in Marshfield along the coast. Let's check in with Brian, if we can. I know we've had some problems trying to connect with him.

We don't have Brian, I'm told. We'll check in with him shortly. But Brian is along the coast of Massachusetts right now, as well. We'll get back to that in just a few moments.

Other news we're following. We're getting new and troubling information about the AirAsia crash that killed all 162 people on board. Reuters is now reporting that investigators are looking at a possible computer problem on the plane, something that could raise serious concerns about the thousands of other similar Airbus jets around the globe.

Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's taking a closer look at what's going on. What have we learned, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the burning question at this moment. Was there something wrong with an onboard computer before this fatal flight? And, even if that computer was working properly, did it somehow contribute to this plunge into the sea?


FOREMAN (voice-over): A new focus of the investigation, according to Reuters, is on the flight augmentation computers or the FAC. There were two on this Airbus 320 jet, one serving as a backup. That matters because of reports of a possible earlier maintenance problem with the primary computer.

The FAC helps pilots with both the stability and control of the aircraft, keeping it on course at the proper altitude and making sure adjustments to the rudder, flaps and more are smooth. In addition, the FAC warns pilots if they manually try to push the plane beyond its capabilities. So, even if an FAC malfunctions, can that cause a crash? Pilots and engineers say not likely.

Keith Wolzinger, a commercial pilot.

KEITH WOLZINGER, COMMERCIAL PILOT: The FAC can't cause a crash. It's a protection system. FOREMAN: But Indonesian authorities say the AirAsia flight climbed

dramatically in the middle of a fierce storm right before it fell. Whether that was caused by a powerful updraft or the pilots or both is unknown. But aviation analysts say the FAC could have recognized trouble and, at a critical moment, automatically shifted full control back to the pilots, who may not have realized it as they were overwhelmed by severe turbulence, a cacophony of alarms in the cockpit, and the threat of an imminent stall.

WOLZINGER: Pilots are trained to handle multiple emergencies simultaneously. Maybe not exactly the circumstances that this crew encountered, but certainly multiple failures, multiple warnings. And we're mentally equipped to prioritize dealing with these warnings. Anything short of structural failure, pilots are exposed to some of these situations, at least, and taught how to recover.


TODD: This is one of many theories out there right now. That's all it is. But if it is determined that there was something wrong, some kind of glitch in the software in this computer, or that there was some sort of fatal failure of communication between the computer and the crew, if that's something they come up with in all of this, that's going to raise an awful lot of questions all around the world about how these systems operate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly. Tom Foreman, thank you.

Let's get some more insight now on this new information. Joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former commercial pilot, Alastair Rosenschein. He's flown the same route as the AirAsia jet. Also joining us, our aviation analyst Miles O'Brien.

Alastair, first to you. You've flown this exact route that Flight 8501 was taking. Take us inside the cockpit and explain why these computer systems potentially are so critical.

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, FORMER COMMERCIAL PILOT: Well, we're talking here about an A-320. And I was flying -- I flew Boeing 747s. But the same principles apply.

The A-320 has a system which prevents the pilots from flying outside of the flight envelope. In other words, they're unable to stall the aircraft or render the aircraft unflyable.

However, if they revert back to manual control, they would then lose that protection. And that could be a confusing aspect to the pilots if they're not, you know, immediately aware, especially if they're in a situation of severe turbulence or may have a loss of situational awareness.

So there are various problems when you do fly an aircraft which normally offers you safety to prevent you over -- over-controlling the aircraft, and then you lose that safety protection because of system redundancy failures. Then you're in a rather difficult position. BLITZER: Certainly. And Miles, there are what, about 3,600 of these

A-320s operating right now around the world? As I've been saying for a long time, if there is some sort of problem there, they've got to figure it out to make sure it doesn't happen again.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: And it could be more than the A- 320. If you'll hearken back to the Air France crash, which was a difficult model of Airbus, some of the similar factors might have come into play there.

What we're talking about here, in essence, is the man/machine interface. These are aircraft that are highly automated. The pilots are in a systems management mode 99 percent of the time. You don't spend a lot of time actually manually flying the plane. What happens is the computer gets into a bad situation that exceeds its parameters. It gives up the ghost, hands it over to the human crew and says, "Here, it's your airplane" at the most inopportune time, at a time when they may not be trained how to handle it.

BLITZER: Alastair, do you have confidence the Indonesians are doing the right thing, they know what they're doing right now in terms of this investigation? Because everyone needs to get this information ASAP.

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, if they're not revealing at this stage what they've found on the flight deck recorder and cockpit voice recorder, then they're following the normal protocol, which is establish the facts before you speak to the public. And at the moment they seem to be doing that. Occasionally, somebody speaks out of turn, and so we've got some strange information being put out occasionally.

But it's difficult to say just how they're handling it, because we're not privy to what's happening behind closed doors. But I would imagine that -- well, I know that Airbus will be involved in this investigation, as well. And so I'm sure it's being handled properly. The important factor here -- and I speak now as a pilot, retired pilot -- is that anything that happened to this aircraft that might possibly occur again for another crew must be known as soon as possible in order to avoid it happening again.

BLITZER: Yes. I totally agree. Everyone agrees with you. Alastair Rosenschein, Miles O'Brien, guys, thanks very much.

We're keeping our eyes right now on that northeastern blizzard. Not only is it still dumping snow on Boston, the New England states. It's causing major flooding along the coast.

Also coming up, surprising new details about who was operating that drone that crash-landed on the White House grounds. Stand by. We have new information for you.


BLITZER: Dangerous situation is still developing along the Massachusetts coast right now. Let's go to Brian Todd. He's in Marshfield where part of the seawall collapsed overnight. Now it's high tide -- high tide there. Tell us what's going on, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we had to move away from the area where the high tide was, where the seawall was being breached. We were there shooting some video, trying to transmit that. We lost our live signal, because there was no cell phone signal there. We couldn't transmit, and it got extremely dangerous.

The water was just breaching the seawall, huge waves coming over the seawall, coming very near us, hitting us on a couple of occasions. We did get -- we did get near the breach and saw how dangerous it was.

Several people had to be evacuated from their homes right by that seawall here in Marshfield because of the breach. They got flooded out. At least nine homes, possibly 11 homes, had significant damage, and several people had to be evacuated.

Right now, high tide has returned, and also, what is obviously afoot here is whiteout conditions. Look at these conditions behind me. I mean, we can barely walk around. We can barely make our way around here. And you certainly can't see much because of the whiteout conditions.

The wind is really devastating. It's kicking everything up. Rescue crews are going through this town, trying to find people who are in these homes near the seawall.

I just talked to one official here. He believes that all of them have probably been cleared out by now, but they're still going around and trying to find some of those people in those homes. But it's very, very dangerous.

There are also downed power lines all over the place, Wolf, so it is a very dangerous situation here as high tide returns to the town of Marshfield, Massachusetts.

BLITZER: Be careful over there, Brian. We're going to get back with you soon.

We're also getting some other important information, new information about the person who was operating that drone that crashed at the White House.

Let's go in depth with our justice reporter, Evan Perez, and our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, former FBI assistant director.

Evan, you're talking to your sources. What's going on over here? Who's the individual that apparently was responsible for flying a drone over the residence of the White House, then seeing it crash-land on the south grounds?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the big surprise. This -- this person was an employee of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. This is a spy agency that focuses on analyzing maps and satellite imagery to help U.S. spy agencies do their work, including finding Osama bin Laden. But this employee says that he was out for a night of drinking with

his friends and decided to test-drive this -- this quadcopter drone, which is about two feet long, and he was test-driving it, going down Pennsylvania Avenue when he lost control. He says it was completely an accident and did not intend to fly it over the White House grounds. This is now something that's under investigation, not only by the Secret Service but also by the U.S. prosecutors from the U.S. attorney's office here in Washington.

BLITZER: But this is a guy who works for this spy agency.

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: It's the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. They're in charge of mapping and reconnaissance and stuff like that. And he was, at 3:00 in the morning, deliberately flying a drone over the White House?

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: And he knew that was restricted air space.

PEREZ: You know, there's a lot of things that prosecutors are going to be interested in, including the fact, Wolf, that, you know, there's a lot of space there he could have been flying. He could have been flying over the National Mall, which is a much wider space.

Why did this drone, why did this end up being on the White House grounds? He says it wasn't intentional, it was something that he was doing to I guess work -- impress his friends at 3:00 in the morning after a night of drinking.

BLITZER: I guess he's going to have some problems. The questions are going to be serious to him, right? I assume he's being investigated right now.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, he is, Wolf. But the question is going to be of how intentional did he realize it was going to be that close to the White House. I mean, it's illegal to fly a drone anywhere in Washington, but the fact that it was that close to the White House, you know, raises all of those issues.

Here's somebody working for one of the most sensitive agencies in the U.S. intelligence community, as Evan mentioned. So, you know, it's a pretty severe thing for him to be involved in something like this. The question is, there have been some reports that he was extremely intoxicated at the time of this, when the drone got away from him he just went home and went to bed and friends woke him the next day and said, did you hear about the drone on the White House lawn? So it does prove the point.


FUENTES: Don't drink and drone.

BLITZER: No. Don't' drink and drone is good advice. Tom Foreman, Evan Perez, thanks, guys, very much. We're going to have

a lot more on this story later.

Also, we're getting live updates from our crews, our reporters, photographers in the snow emergency zone and along the coast where there's a new round of flooding.

But up next, allegations of Russian spies exchanging secrets in New York City just like they did in the -- during the Cold War, which apparently may still be going on right now.


BLITZER: Take a look at this. These are live pictures of Saugus, Massachusetts, coming in right now. This has been an epic storm. It's continuing to hammer the northeast and New England, as snowfalls top 30 inches in some places. Coastal flooding is a growing threat.

Take a look at these pictures coming in from Marshville along the Atlantic Coast of Massachusetts. It's high tide right now. Part of the seawall has collapsed.

We're following all the breaking developments. Much more coming up in a few moments.

But there's other news, including some secret meetings and coded messages sent to Moscow. The FBI now says it has busted a Russian spy ring operating in New York City.

Our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns has details.

Joe, this sounds like sort of a spy story that's happening now but straight out of the Cold War.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It certainly is, Wolf. Three Russian men are charged in this case. Two have already left the country with diplomatic immunity. The third is being held and suspected of seeking some potentially damaging information, including destabilization of economic markets and how to limit trading robots. Listen.


JOHNS (voice-over): He claimed to be a Russian banker working in his company's New York office. But the Justice Department alleges Evgeny Buryakov was actually one of three Russian spies who've been under surveillance in this country for years.

The U.S. attorney said two decades after the presumptive end of the Cold War, Russian spies continue to seek to operate in our midst under cover of secrecy.

ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: When the Berlin Wall came down, the Russians never stopped spying. They continued to run sources in Washington. They never reduced the size of their station in Washington or New York. JOHNS: The investigation started almost five years ago when 10 other

Russian agents, seen in these FBI surveillance videos, including the now infamous Anna Chapman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and were shipped back to Russia as part of a spy swap.

Fast forward to 2015, court documents said Buryakov used two other Russian men working under diplomatic cover in New York to relay information back to Russia. That the three intelligence agents would schedule meetings over the phone using code words, claiming they needed to transfer things like tickets to sporting events or movies they never attended or other items like books or hats.

They met on dozens of occasions between 2012 and 2014, watched by the FBI. Meetings usually occurred outdoors where surveillance was more difficult, where one man would hand, a bag, a magazine or a slip of paper to another.

Prosecutors said they tried to recruit U.S. citizens as intelligence sources in New York. The target, people working for major companies and young women with ties to a university located in New York.

Intelligence of interest included information on U.S. sanctions against Russia and U.S. efforts to develop alternative energy sources.

BAER: Russians are in trouble right now with the price of oil. Having halved in over the last six months. And they look at this as -- in fact a Saudi-American conspiracy to take down their oil industry.

JOHNS: The spies seemed disillusioned about their jobs. Frustrated that the real-world life of a spy wasn't like in the movies.

In one conversation, quoted in court papers, saying, it was not even close to the James Bond movies and I also thought that at least I would go abroad with a different passport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're my wife.


JOHNS: A story that could have been lifted straight out of the TV series "The Americas."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you make any noise, I will kill you.


JOHNS: Our calls to the Russian embassy were not answered today. However, in the Moscow times, a Russian government official was quoted as saying the charges against Buryakov had not been substantiated and that he should be released.

BLITZER: Cold War revisited right now. Thanks very much for that, Joe Johns.

Coming up, much more on the epic blizzard hammering the northeast. As the snow keeps piling up, millions battered by the massive storm now face the threat of flooding.

And ISIS raises the stakes, threatening to kill two hostages unless a convicted terrorist is free.


BLITZER: Happening now, eye of the storm. Millions of Americans are in the grip of a relentless blizzard. And now a life-threatening deep freeze is setting in. I'll speak live to the -- with the governor of Rhode Island, one of the states getting hammered right now.

Rising danger. Icy floodwaters swamped some coastal areas. A seawall cracks and an entire island goes dark. CNN is live across the winter storm zone where conditions are the worst.