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Interview With State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki; Malls Under Threat?; Dangerous Weather; U.S. Responds to New Shopping Mall Terror Threat

Aired February 23, 2015 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: malls targeted. A terrorist group that's massacred shoppers calling for new attacks, including right here in the United States. Are you at risk at your local mall?

Terror blind spots. The head of the National Security Agency reveals troubling new lapses in America's ability to track the killers in ISIS and stop them from launching attacks.

Hostage family secrets. Kayla Mueller's parents are now speaking out about the nightmare of her capture by ISIS and a deal that may have doomed her to die.

Deep freeze, much of the U.S. getting hit with another dangerous winter wallop. Even the South is suffering through snow, ice and cold. Is there an end in sight?

We want Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, security is ramped up at one of the largest malls in the United States in response to a chilling new terrorist threat against shopping centers in the U.S., Canada and Britain. The homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, warning visitors to the Mall of America in Minnesota to be, in his words, particularly careful after that complex was specifically targeted by the terror group Al-Shabaab.

As the U.S. battles terror on multiple fronts, including ISIS, the head of the NSA is delivering a troubling new warning. He says there are serious new blind spots in America's ability to track terrorists and prevent attacks.

The top State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, she is standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts. They're covering all the news that is breaking right now.

First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, with more on the threat to malls in the United States and indeed around the world.

What are you learning, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, we have learned that the FBI in Minneapolis as well as other law enforcement there have stepped up security in the wake of all this, including putting more personnel at the Mall of America and boosting information sharing.

Of course, the big concern here is that the latest propaganda video could encourage lone wolf attacks, particularly by those who live near Mall of America.


BROWN (voice-over): The new video, which CNN is not showing, calls for attacks against specific malls in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain and appears to be designed to inspire local wolves to launch strikes similar to the one on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. That upscale mall was attacked by Al-Shabaab nearly two years ago; 60 people died during the four-day standoff.

Today, in an effort to keep shoppers coming, Westfield, the owner of some of the malls mentioned in the video, released a new statement saying -- quote -- "There is no imminent threat."

But less than 24 hours earlier, Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson suggested something different when asked on CNN about the Mall of America, one of the shopping centers mentioned in the video threat.

JEH JOHNSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: If anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they have got to be particularly careful.

BROWN: Tonight U.S. law enforcement officials suggest Johnson was suggesting caution, saying it's unlikely the Somali-based terrorist group has the capability to launch a coordinated attack. What's more concerning, experts say, are those who still might be inspired, especially those living near the Mall of America.

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We have a large Somali community in Minneapolis. They are not assimilated well, a lot of disaffected unemployed young men, a lot of young men turning to Islam. And they are just hoping that someone will pick up the flag and attack the Mall of America.

BROWN: CNN has also learned the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have sent a joint warning asking law enforcement agencies to stay vigilant.

Today, the Mall of America tested its readiness. And the FBI has long conducted mock attacks at U.S. shopping centers. But a series of mall shootings in the past few years, including a deadly shooting at this mall in Nebraska in 2007, show how shopping centers could be easy targets.

BAER: Any place Americans congregate is vulnerable to attack. And there's nothing we can do. We are an open society. You can't arrest somebody for having a bad thought. And with the availability of chemicals and automatic weapons in this country, we are at risk.

BROWN: National security experts say it's difficult to fully protect all the different types of soft targets in the U.S., like trains, movie theaters and sporting events.


BROWN: And many national security analysts we have been speaking with today say this latest propaganda video from Al-Shabaab may be a sign that it's trying to compete with ISIS, because, as we know, Wolf, ISIS has been using these types of propaganda videos to recruit at a record rate. Perhaps Al-Shabaab is trying to do the same now.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

Let's go to the Mall of America right now. That was the mall that was specifically mentioned in the new video that Al-Shabaab terrorists put out.

Brian Todd is on the scene for us in Minnesota. What's the latest there, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a considerable ramping up of security here at the Mall of America. It's a massive challenge to do that.

This mall has over 80 acres for security terms to patrol and to monitor. It has over a dozen entrances. We have been inside today. We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the security protocols that are being put in place. Take a listen, though. In addition to what they are saying about ramping up security here, they are counting on the public who is coming to the mall to help them out if they see something wrong. Listen to Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts.


JEFF POTTS, BLOOMINGTON, MINNESOTA, POLICE CHIEF: As people come out to this mall or other malls, be aware of your surroundings. If you see something that doesn't fit in, just call law enforcement. We will come in check it out.


TODD: Of course, the concern here is twofold, because you have Somalis who have been recruited to fight with ISIS and with Al-Shabaab from this community.

Al-Shabaab, as Pamela mentioned in her piece, has also launched a major attack on a mall before, the Westgate Mall in Kenya. Those two factors, Wolf, have really ramped up concern for a possible lone wolf attack on this mall here in Minneapolis.

BLITZER: I know there have been some drills there as this ramped-up security goes on today, Brian. Explain that. And also tell us if you are seeing a lot more police officers, vehicles, around that mall.

BROWN: We're actually not seeing a lot more police officers around the mall patrolling. There is a little bit of an increased presence, but they're not making it overwhelming as far as the visible eye.

What they are doing is ramping up security in other ways. They have got plainclothes officers running around, hundreds of surveillance cameras. They have a social media station here, Wolf, where they are monitoring all the social media chatter that's coming in. They do have canine dog teams that are going around trying to find possible explosive devices. And they have people who are behavioral specialists trained to essentially profile people who are acting suspiciously, pull them aside and question them, all of that being ramped up tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd at the Mall of America in Minnesota, thank you.

U.S. intelligence agencies, they are scrambling to respond to all the new terrorist threats out there, but we're now learning they are dealing with a dangerous new disadvantage. The head of the super- secret National Security Agency, the NSA, is going public with a specific problem today.

Let's go to our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, for details -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was a frank assessment from the head of the NSA and also the military's Cyber Command, Admiral Michael Rogers, acknowledging that one of the most formidable intelligence agencies in the world has new blind spots in tracking terrorists, such as ISIS, which in turn is impacting the U.S. capability to prevent new terror attacks. Here is what he had to say this morning.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): ISIS advertising its brutality once again, parading captured Kurdish soldiers in cages, like the one where the captured Jordanian pilot met his death.

Despite distributing propaganda publicly on social media, today, the head of the NSA acknowledged new blind spots in tracking terrorists like ISIS as they have altered and concealed their communications in the wake of revelations by Edward Snowden.

I would say that it has had a material impact on our ability to generate insights as to what counterterrorism -- what terrorist groups around the world are doing.

SCIUTTO (on camera): Do you have new blind spots that you didn't have prior to the revelation?

ADM. MICHAEL ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR/COMMANDER OF U.S. CYBER COMMAND: Have I lost capability that we had prior to the revelations?



SCIUTTO: How much does that concern you?

ROGERS: It concerns me a lot.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Still, ISIS has not pulled back its messaging on the Web, releasing propaganda videos like this one showing an ISIS training camp for children.

Wearing camouflage and ISIS bandanas, the terror group calls these kids their cubs. Admiral Rogers identified another clear and present danger to the U.S., cyber-attacks with the capability to inflict significant damage on the homeland.

ROGERS: I think it's only a matter of time before we see destructive offensive actions taken against critical U.S. infrastructure.

SCIUTTO (on camera): Which states today are capable of carrying out such an attack like that?

ROGERS: We have talked about our concerns with China, what they are doing in cyber. Clearly, the Russians and others have capabilities. We are mindful of that.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Still, Admiral Rogers, who heads the U.S. military's Cyber Command, admits that the U.S. capability to deter such a cyber-attack and prevent further escalation remains -- quote -- "immature, despite the growing threat."

ROGERS: But we clearly are not I think where we need to be, where I think we want collectively to be. This is still the early stages of cyber in many ways. So we are going to have to work our way through this.


SCIUTTO: He was asked an interesting question, and that is if foreign intelligence agencies are monitoring U.S. cell networks. Admiral Rogers made clear that that is,Wolf, very likely as well.

BLITZER: Very likely, is that what you said?

SCIUTTO: Very likely.


The ISIS threat is clearly escalating. Now there's a new call for a united Arab military force to join the fight. Tell us about that.

SCIUTTO: This is coming from Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah Al- Sisi.

He said -- quote -- "The need for a unified air force is growing and becoming more pressing everybody day." Egypt of course is facing the threat from ISIS now on two fronts, in the Sinai Peninsula in the east and also in the west inside Libya. In fact, in Libya, this is a direct operational tie to ISIS, not

just rebranding -- Islamists rebranding themselves. Al-Sisi said Jordan and the UAE have offered military help. I'll tell you, Wolf, that last week during the president's countering violence extremism conference, I met with a number of senior Arab diplomats who meant the same thing.

They want a unified response, they want a strategy to confront ISIS militarily outside of Iraq and Syria as they spread more and more in places such as Egypt certainly and the Sinai and Yemen and further afield.

BLITZER: It certainly would be encouraging if they could do that. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now.

The top State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jen, for coming in.

What do you think of President Al-Sisi's recommendation that there be some sort of joint combined Arab military force to go out there and crush ISIS?

PSAKI: Well, there's a lot more we need to learn.

We have seen proposals like this put out there in the past. There's no question that with the recent events, with the death of the Jordanian pilot, certainly with the events in Libya, many Arab countries have redoubled their commitment to this. And we have seen a pickup in military action and a number of the other areas of the anti- ISIS coalition.

But the question is what does that mean? How will it be different? We will have discussions and we will see what they are proposing.

BLITZER: Are you talking to President Al-Sisi about his proposal? Because on the surface, it sounds exactly what the United States wants, let those countries in the region get their ground forces involved to destroy ISIS, so that the U.S. doesn't have to send in boots on the ground.

PSAKI: We certainly will be. Egypt is an important partner. And we're also going to continue to talk with a number of the other Arab countries as well.

They are all taking military action right now in Iraq and Syria. We're obviously not going to be limited by where ISIL poses a threat. We will have discussions. And we are going to go after ISIL wherever it poses us a threat. BLITZER: Do you support the Egyptian airstrikes that have been

going on against ISIS targets in neighboring Libya after they murdered 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya?

PSAKI: I think everybody in the world watched what happened to the 21 Coptic Christians and were horrified on behalf of Egypt.

And we saw them take responsive action. The tricky issue here, Wolf, as you are familiar with, is that Libya has had a lot of internal political strife. They have had a lot of battles going on, on the ground. There's a U.N. process that is working very hard to work that through. We think a political process is the best way to address the strife going on, on the ground. We are going to have continued discussions about how to address ISIL. We see that as a separate issue.

BLITZER: You don't support these Egyptian airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya?

PSAKI: No, we have certainly supported Egypt's decision and the steps they took to defend themselves. But we need to continue to have a discussion about where ISIL poses a threat moving forward and also respect the fact that outside intervention has not proven to be productive as it relates to the ongoing political strife in Libya.

BLITZER: Because for all practical purposes, Libya, which the U.S. helped liberate from Gadhafi, as you well remember, Libya is a failed state right now. It's a basket case.

PSAKI: Well, Libya is volatile. Libya is a place where we wish we had a diplomatic presence and we can't right now.

There's a lot of work that needs to be done in Libya. But there's a process being led by the U.N. Bernardino Leon is leading that process. We're supporting that. A number of countries are supporting that. We want to see that work its way through and have the political parties talk to each other.

BLITZER: On a military-to-military relationship, how is the relationship with Egypt right now? Because I know you have had concerns about President Al-Sisi's policies, domestic policies, going after the Muslim Brotherhood, going after journalists, some freedom of speech issues.

On a military-to-military, intelligence-to-intelligence relationship, how would you describe the U.S./Egyptian connection?

PSAKI: We have continue to have a strong security relationship.

And we have taken steps, including providing assistance, releasing Apache helicopters over the past several months, because we believe the threats that pose -- that Egypt is dealing with in the Sinai and other areas are something that we want to help them deal with. We understand their security concerns.

It doesn't mean we don't speak out when we have concerns about other issues, whether it's human rights or media freedoms. That's our responsibility and consistent with our values.

BLITZER: All right. I want you to stand by.

Jen Psaki is the State Department spokeswoman. We have a lot more to discuss, including this latest Al-Shabaab threat to go after malls right here in the United States.


BLITZER: We're back with the State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki.

Jen is the -- we're all watching this latest Al-Shabaab, this al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, video making direct threats against shopping malls in the U.S., Canada, U.K. How big of a threat is Al- Shabaab to the U.S. homeland?

PSAKI: Well, first, let's call this what it is. It's a propaganda video to instill fear in the American public.

We take every type of threat seriously. And the DHS and the FBI looked into this. There's no credible threat against the Mall of America, against malls around the country. Do we need to remain vigilant? Absolutely. But there's no credible threat.

BLITZER: But what if these videos inspire a lone wolf, some kid in Minneapolis-St. Paul, for example, to go out and do something? That's the great fear, isn't it?

PSAKI: Well, we always need to remain vigilant.

The fact is that Al-Shabaab has never coordinated an attack against -- outside of Africa. But if we separate ourselves from that, I think one of the things we're talking about around the world now is things like copycat attacks and people being inspired, which is really a sick way of describing it, by some of these terrorist organizations.

That's why we're talking about this. That's why we need to continue to raise attention to these issues.

BLITZER: Why is ISIS so good in the social media, these videos, these high-quality videos they put out, and the U.S., the U.K., Europeans, everybody else who is fighting is, including in the Middle East, the Arab -- friendly Arab countries, so bad in social media?

PSAKI: Well, that's quite a way of describing it.

But there's no question what we're combating with ISIL's propaganda machine is something we have not seen before. It's something we need to do a lot more work on. We are seeing 9,000 -- or 90,000, I think, tweets a day that we're combating. This is one of the reasons why the coalition is very focused on the propaganda piece.

How do we combat it? Who is the right voice? It's not necessarily the American people. It's not necessarily Westerners. It's probably people in the region. And that's something that was a big topic of discussion last week at the conference.

BLITZER: And you have got a little office now you are creating at the State Department.

PSAKI: We are.

BLITZER: You are expanding it to go ahead and try to fight them in the area of social media, whether tweets or Facebook or whatever.

PSAKI: We are. And we're seeing their approaches continue to evolve. We need to continue to make sure ours are evolving and we're combating it in the most strategic way and using every interagency resource.

BLITZER: But you have a lot of work to do in this area. You will acknowledge that.

PSAKI: We do. We do.

BLITZER: It's really crazy when you think about it, since we invented the social media and they are much better at it and going after these targets than we are.

PSAKI: Well, they use it as a recruitment tool. They use it in many, many different ways. And it's something that we have had many people from different parts of the federal government looking at, thinking about how we can go strategically after. We're really going to pick it up now. We have new people in charge of the office. And we will see what happens over the coming months.

BLITZER: You heard Jim Sciutto's report, our chief security national adviser. He spoke with the head of the NSA, the National Security Agency, Mike -- Admiral Mike Rogers, not the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, another Mike Rogers.

But he says there are blind spots. And the U.S. is having trouble monitoring some of these terrorists. How big of a problem is this?

PSAKI: Well, one of the issues I saw in the report he talked about was cyber-security.

And there's no question that this is a relatively newer issue that the United States is dealing with and grappling with. It's also an issue where the approaches and the way that those who plan to do us harm continue to take different approaches. And their strategies evolve. So, we need to also evolve.

We deal with thousands of cyber-security threats a day in the federal government, even in the State Department. So, he is talking about an issue that we're very cognizant of, and we need to continue to determine the right way to combat it.

BLITZER: Because he is suggesting that the -- Edward Snowden is responsible for causing this gap. Do you agree with that? PSAKI: I certainly wouldn't disagree with a well-known and well-

respected leader from the NSA. I think there's no question that the information that was put out there by Edward Snowden, the fact that people saw that information could be out there, has raised this issue.

But we're dealing with cyber-security threats from a range of sources. And that's something that we grapple with every single day.

BLITZER: There was some heart-wrenching sound we heard from the parents of Kayla Mueller, the American humanitarian aid worker who went into Syria, taken by ISIS, and obviously is now dead.

The parents, the relatives, they are very upset that you, the U.S. government, would not allow some sort of ransom to be paid in exchange for her freedom, even though you did allow a swap for Bowe Bergdahl, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, releasing five Taliban from Guantanamo Bay.

You were willing to negotiate on that to get his freedom, but you weren't willing to negotiate to get her freedom.

PSAKI: Well, I think one thing to be very clear about is, we take a number of steps to bring American citizens, including Kayla Mueller, home.

And I think nobody can understand the pain her family is going through aside from them. So, that's something that we respect and our hearts go out to them. but the fact is that ransom payments we have seen, that they put more American citizens at risk, they make them a higher-value target. There's a reason we have that policy.

It's painful. It's something that people don't always understand. But the policy is in place for a reason. And the president said, I think a week or two ago, that this is one of the most difficult issues that he has to communicate with families about.

BLITZER: Did the release of those five Taliban prisoners from Gitmo encourage ISIS, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, these other terror groups to go ahead and take other Americans, military or civilian, for that matter, knowing they would get something in return?

PSAKI: Look, Wolf, I think there's nothing more I can outline for you in terms of what their motivations were.

Some of those issues are speculation. And I just don't have anything more for you on it. I do think that if you look at ransom payments and what we have seen historically around the world, this is a risk there's a lot of evidence on.

We have a policy for a reason, because we want to protect American citizens. We don't want to put them at greater risk. And I think the issue is, we don't leave men and women behind either, service men and women. That's why we did the trade for Bowe Bergdahl. And that was a situation that was very different from American hostages being held overseas.

BLITZER: Jen Psaki, thanks very much for coming in.

PSAKI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We know you are leaving State Department to go work for the president at the White House. Good luck over there.

PSAKI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, we're going to talk about the ways that other terror groups are trying to outdo ISIS with flashy videos and murderous threats.

And dangerous snow, ice and cold even hitting the heart of Texas. We're taking a closer look at the nightmare on the roads and at airports.


BLITZER: We're following the new threat, the terror threat against shopping malls, including the Mall of America in Minnesota. The homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, warning visitors to be particularly careful after the Somali terror group, al-Shabaab, singled out that mall in a video released over the weekend.

Let's get some more with our CNN global affairs analyst, retired Lieutenant Colonel James Reese; our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes; our counterterrorism analyst, Philip Mudd; and our national security analyst Peter Bergen.

Tom Fuentes, you're a former assistant director of the FBI. How concerned should Americans be about going to their local mall?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think they should go ahead and go. And I think that the security measures that are ramped up are going to be adequate. I think Shabaab is putting out threats that they can't carry out long distance. They might be able to inspire a lone wolf. But that could happen anywhere.

BLITZER: Could they really commit a massive attack on a mall along the scale of what they clearly did in Kenya?

FUENTES: No. They border the country of Kenya. They were able to sneak the shooters, the weapons, the grenades across the border to safe houses to conduct the attack. And it was only four of them that conducted the attack. It should not have resulted in as many deaths, except the Kenyan authorities stood around for ten hours, deciding what to do before they entered the mall.

Many of the victims just bled to death. That would never happen here. The training, the practice, the preparation, the discipline and the leadership at all levels, federal, state and local, it would not be duplicated here.

BLITZER: More than 60 people were killed at that -- that's the high-end mall in Kenya.

Philip Mudd, tell us about the intention behind al-Shabaab's latest threat. How does this new video fit into their whole terror propaganda machine?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, there's the simple and the complex here, Wolf. The simple is pretty straightforward. I don't think al-Shabaab has a strategic capability in the United States.

But remember, our first suicide bomber in this war on terror was a Somali who went to al-Shabaab from Minneapolis, Minnesota, the same state as the Mall of America. So there will be sympathizers in this country. And al-Shabaab clearly is trying to get an echo affect among those sympathizers.

But the more subtle point is, al Shabaab is watching ISIS. They're watching al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In the past couple years, Shabaab has been on their heels, because African forces have moved them out of the capital and continue to constrain the geographic space within which Shabaab operates. Some of this is a Shabaab attempt at sort of aggressive operations or inspiring aggressive operations in the United States. Some of it, just in my view, is a reflection of al-Shabaab's weakness and their intent to remain relevant.

BLITZER: Will it resonate, Peter Bergen, this latest al-Shabaab video, if they're trying to inspire a lone wolf or a group of individuals to go out there and commit a terror attack, whether here in the United States, in Canada, or the U.K. or elsewhere? Will it work?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It could resonate. I mean, I'm in total agreement with Tom and Phil. Al Shabaab is a group that is under huge pressure. They used to control parts of Somalia. They used to control the capital, Mogadishu. They don't.

And in fact, the Westgate Mall attack was really a sign of weakness rather than strength. If the idea was to attack Kenya, they ended up, instead of attacking the military, they ended up attacking a completely undefended mall. So this is a group that is not doing well. And its ability to -- it doesn't have a support network of any real strength in the United States.

BLITZER: There's some, Colonel Reese, who believe that al- Shabaab is in some sort of competition with ISIS or AQAP. They're looking for publicity because they don't want these other groups to get all the attention. Do you buy that?

LT. COL. JAMES REESE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Wolf, no, I don't. The bottom line is there's an economy that comes about this. A lot of these fighters for all these elements, they're mercenaries. They're men that have been trained throughout the years through the Gadhafi, other places around the world. They're looking to get paid.

Right now, ISIS is the one that has the money. AQAP has got a funding source. So I see this as everyone else said. This is a ploy of al-Shabaab to try to raise their profile, possibly get funding, help their people. I think al-Shabaab, they're kind of fluttering right now.

BLITZER: Colonel Reese, this other propaganda video that just came out, it's supposedly designed to teach what they call cubs or young kids Islamic principles so they will grow up and become ISIS militants or fighters, if you will. What do you make of this video?

REESE: Well, you know, I look at it and this has been out for a couple of weeks. It looks like it's one of our, you know, jujitsu or maurtai (ph) places that we have that we're training our young soldiers, even our younger kids. It's the MMA effect to it. It's really, again, they're trying to build this up from the bottom, because personally, I think ISIS is struggling a little bit, and they're trying to get into the bottom levels to try to raise it up. Because I think we're -- I think our strikes against them in Syria and Iraq are doing damage to them.

BLITZER: I'll ask you, Phil Mudd, what I asked the State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki. Why are these terror groups so much better at social media than the United States of America?

MUDD: Wolf, it's clear to me you've never worked in the U.S. government. To try to coordinate among U.S. agencies something as cutting edge as participating in Twitter to my mind is asking too much.

There's a couple of things, seriously, going on here. First, I think trying to influence from Washington, D.C., what the Islamic world thinks about thousands of miles away is almost a feckless exercise. We talk about it a lot. I don't think we'll ever be effective at it, because that's not who we are and that's not how we think.

But again, going back, seriously, to my earlier point, I don't think a centralized government bureaucracy trying to respond tactically minute by minute to a public relations campaign from an organization that does not have the same bureaucratic constraints is going to work that well. Governments just can't move that quickly and that tactically.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Peter Bergen, that some sort of government-sponsored Twitter campaign or social media campaign to convince young people in the Muslim world or elsewhere in Europe or even here in the United States not to join these terror groups is really doomed to failure?

BERGEN: I'm not saying doomed to failure. I basically agree with Phil. But I mean, the State Department is doing something. The French are doing something. And, you know, ISIS, of course, doesn't do irony. But there's a great irony here, which these are American tools.

BLITZER: We created all these. BERGEN: We created these tools, and yet, these groups are using

them all the time. But the fact is, you know, getting to the purpose is not (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I think the State Department is trying to get out there and there's an easy message, which is these groups claim to defend Islam, but most of their victims are Muslim. You don't have to be an Islamic scholar to say that, and that's a message that resonates.

BLITZER: Tom, you want to weigh in?

FUENTES: I think the mistake we make is al-Shabaab is not really al-Qaeda. We call them an al-Qaeda affiliate.

BLITZER: They support al-Qaeda, though.

FUENTES: Yes, but Zawahiri is the keeper of the flame. He's the one that authorizes franchises to be able to call yourself al Qaeda, and he has since bin Laden's day. And he doesn't allow it if your goals are only nationalistic. And that's what al Shabaab has been from the very beginning.

They want to take over Somalia. They wanted to have control of Mogadishu and install a caliphate within that. They never had designs on Europe, the rest of the globe, and that was always a requirement, Zawahiri to say, now you are al Qaeda. If you kill westerners, going after the U.S. and western Europeans, fine. But if you're just worried about your own internal politics in your country, don't call us, and don't use our name.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Don't go too far away. Unfortunately, the story is staying with us.

Just ahead, another story we're following here in the United States, millions of Americans shivering as a new arctic blast moves in creating treacherous conditions for much of Texas. We'll go there live.

And Rudy Giuliani stepping back a bit from his claim that President Obama does not love America. He is not saying he's sorry about what he said. We're going to get some analysis of what's going on. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Large portions of the United States are gripped by life-threatening cold right now, thanks to a new arctic blast. Millions of Americans are shivering in wind chills as cold as 20 below zero. And much of Texas is also seeing snow and ice, making travel difficult and potentially deadly.

CNN's Martin Savidge is joining us from just outside Dallas with more. What are the conditions like there, Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is what a winter storm looks like in Texas. It's not so much the snow. It's the ice. And in this parking lot, it's a quarter of an inch thick. And that's the way all the roads look in central Texas when it came to the morning commute. And it was a treacherous one. Whether you were driving on the highways, whether you took on the regular commute, or whether you decided to maybe try and get out via the airport.

There were 1,000 flights coming and going that were canceled out of Dallas-Ft. Worth and Love Field. If you were driving those highways, you found that many businesses were closed. A lot of government buildings were shut down. Most of the schools in this part of Texas were closed down as well. Amarillo, Texas, the traffic nightmare there that unfolded was actually duplicated in a number of places across the state as multiple pileups were reported.

And it is only expected to be worse tomorrow because what thaws during the heat of the day is going to re-freeze tonight. And they say the morning commute is really going to be dangerous.

We should point out, this wasn't the only tough place in the nation. It was snowing in Las Vegas. Once again, you're seeing that the west and in particular the south is suffering for the second time in a week, taking on weather they are definitely not accustomed to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Snowing in Vegas. All right, thanks, Martin.

Let's bring in our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. Jennifer, what does it look like in the next day or two?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, two winter storms in the south are bad enough. We are looking at a third in just a couple of days. One right on the heels of this one.

Right now, we're starting to see the ice, the freezing rain, sleet tapered off in the Dallas area for now. Shreveport still getting a tail end. The I-20 corridor, a rough go as we go through the evening. Jackson, Mississippi, right on that line getting rain on the south end and then freezing rain and sleet on the north end. Little Rock, still in the snow. Even Memphis getting a little bit of snow as we go throughout the evening hours. The wintry mix will continue.

We do have another winter storm watch in effect for Dallas. They dropped it and then reissued it for tomorrow night into Wednesday. Could pick up another one to three inches of snow as we go through Tuesday night into Wednesday. Of course, this winter system is still making its way through the South. We could see a wintry mix even snow as we go through Mississippi, Alabama, even into north Georgia by tonight into tomorrow.

So, timing this out, it will all end for Texas and Louisiana as we go through the overnight hours. Then we'll see it pop up again as we go through northern Alabama and north Georgia by tomorrow morning, and then pushing offshore, even South Carolina possibly getting freezing rain by tomorrow around midday.

Here is the next system already making its way through Wednesday morning commute. We could see more snow and ice in Dallas, Texas, all of east Texas and then southern portions of Arkansas and then Wednesday afternoon, we're going to be pushing into Mississippi, Alabama, even into north Georgia. Atlanta even forecasting snow and possible wintry mix on Wednesday, and then pushing out into the Carolinas, even Virginia, D.C., possibly getting some snow on Thursday afternoon.

Temperatures are also going to stay well below normal. We have 30 and 40 degree below average temperatures expected for tonight into tomorrow morning. Twenty to 30 degree below average temperatures as you head into the Midwest. The South and the deep freeze, could get another round of this winter weather in the next 48 hours.

BLITZER: Jennifer Gray with that. It's going to be cold for several more days. All right. Thank you.

Just ahead, Rudy Giuliani trying to explain his controversial remarks about President Obama. But he stopped short of apologizing to the president. One likely Republican presidential candidate is now feeling the fallout.


BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani's op-ed article in "The Wall Street Journal" today isn't necessarily quelling all the controversies sparked when he said he does not believe President Obama loves America. The former New York City mayor didn't apologize but he did say that he didn't intend to question the president's motives.

And now, a likely presidential candidate Scott Walker, he's the Wisconsin governor, he's feeling a lot of the heat. He's refused to comment on Giuliani's remarks and whether he believes President Obama is a Christian.

Walker accuses the news media of playing what he calls a gotcha game. Let's dig deeper with CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, he's the editorial director of "The National Journal", and our CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar.

He's hunted Scott Walker on a lot of these issues, which is I guess generating a lot of criticism of him, suggesting maybe he's not ready for the national spotlight.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, he talked privately to a lot of Republicans, as I've done all day about this, and they say, look, it's not that difficult to answer this question without answering it. You just need a little more finesse, probably a little bit more experience on the national stage.

But from the perspective of Scott Walker and his aides who I've also spoken to today, they believe that this is exactly what's wrong with Washington and that's the message that he's putting forward. He's giving a speech tonight in Nashville. I'm told he's going to hit this hard, he's going to talk about the fact that he's not going to engage in manufactured crisis of the media, people are trying to pull him into the crisis of the day, with as you said gotcha questions. He's not going to play that ball, he's going to talk about the issues that he wants to talk about.

The problem is that, what are we talking about? This as opposed to the issues he wants to talk about because he won't answer these seemingly not so hard questions.

BLITZER: This is clearly not a manufactured crisis. This is what Rudy Giuliani, America's mayor, if you will, after 9/11, when he says the president of the United States doesn't love America, that becomes obviously a big story.

Now, Scott Walker, when he was in London a few weeks ago, he refused to say whether or not he believes in evolution. What's going on here? Is he trying to appeal to a very conservative base?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think this is the fascinating part of this. I mean, the promise of Scott Walker's candidacy, what many people in the Republican Party see, is that he probably has a better opportunity than anybody else in the field to potentially bridge the more establishment part of the party and the more populous grassroots part of the party. He may be the one candidate who can kind of cross that divide in the party, but what you're seeing -- and you're seeing this remarkable ascent in the polls. I mean, there's a poll out in Texas, where he's even with Ted Cruz, a poll out in California where he's ahead with Jeb Bush, to a poll out in Iowa where he's ahead, two polls in New Hampshire where he's second.

But what all of these episodes suggest is that he may not be as ready as some people have thought to speak to the big, broad audience. These are all answers tailored as you suggest, mostly toward the conservative base of the party and I think it kind of indicates that maybe some need to grow if he's really going to fulfill this bridge- building role that his supporters is possible.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And he should have just have some answers ready to go. I mean, this is basic stuff. If you're a candidate, or a potential candidate, especially if you're sitting in the room when Rudy Giuliani says this, you should be ready to answer this question. Certainly, have a much better answer than the one he had.

BLITZER: If a reporter like Dan Balz, a respected political reporter from "The Washington Post" asks you, do you believe the president is a Christian, he doesn't -- he says, well, I have never talked to him about it. I mean, that's a pretty ridiculous answer.

KEILAR: Yes, I mean, it is.

BASH: I will tell you that the Walker people say that he was surprised by the question, that he went into the interview with "The Washington Post" thinking it was going to be about something very specific and completely different about what is going on in the state of Wisconsin, and that's why he agreed to this interview.

BLITZER: Has he now said, he does believe the president of the United States is a Christian? BASH: They clarified it pretty quickly with his office that, of

course, he believes he's a Christian.

BLITZER: Has he personally made a statement saying, "I believe the president of the United States is a Christian"?

BASH: No. He did it through his office, though.

BLITZER: It's not that complicated.

BROWNSTEIN: Look, I mean, I think what you're dealing with here is something that does not go away because these are all different manifestations of the same impulse. There's a portion of the Republican base and which we've seen even in the Twitter responses that you've mentioned since we've been talking about this today, there's a portion of the base that views the president as fundamentally illegitimate and really wants to see the most confrontational approach toward him possible.

And this is going to come back up in different ways, in different manifestations, all the way through, as candidates have to figure out how to deal with it. John McCain was very forceful in 2008 in saying he was not going to question Barack Obama's patriotism. Scott Walker I think is having -- is making this tougher on himself than it needs to be but something that he's going to have to figure out how to deal with.

BASH: Guess what? He's not going to be on the ballot. Obama is not on the ballot. It's the person you're going to be covering, Hillary Clinton.


BASH: So this is an early test of how they are going to approach their campaigns but when you look at the fundamental basics of it, why waste it on this?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's really -- to me, is again, I think the issue for Scott Walker is, is he someone who can truly speak to the broad range of the public? That is the potential of his campaign. We'll see if he can deliver it in practice.

KEILAR: Or can he answer a question is the other thing. He's been asked various times different questions. Some hot button divisive topics, but you have to answer a question. That is a pretty basic requirement of a potential candidate.

BLITZER: Has the op-ed that Rudy Giuliani wrote in today's "Wall Street Journal" ended this issue for him or is he going to be dogged by it in the days and weeks to come?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think Rudy Giuliani -- considering it's Rudy Giuliani who does not back up very often, I think he went a long way toward not quite apologizing but certainly clarifying his remarks. And I think he probably went as far as he's going to go towards answering this. I don't think this stays an issue in the Republican primary as it

is developing but I do think, as I said, there's an impulse reflected here that is not going to go away and I think the candidates are going to deal with it in different manifestations through the primaries.

KEILAR: You said, Dana, the president shouldn't -- they shouldn't be talking about President Obama. Well, I don't think they should be talking -- Republicans should be talking about this when it comes to President Obama but maybe they could talk about his policies which they could connect to Hillary Clinton who teams to be the candidate --

BLITZER: Dana, while I have you here --

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: -- the Department of Homeland Security, if there's no funding approved by Friday, they are going to shut down in a dangerous moment right there. Is there going to be a deal?

BASH: Right now, there's no deal in sight. The Senate majority leader made a move to try to get a vote for conservatives on what they have been wanting in the Senate, which is to do away with the president's executive action on immigration. That will now be later in the week. Then how they are going to deal with the funding issue? To be determined. We don't know.

BROWNSTEIN: This is where these two things intersect. To not give an inch to President Obama on anything, to fight him as much as possible on everything, that puts him in a difficult position.

BASH: That versus governing.

BROWNSTEIN: That versus governing, and also in terms of these candidates speaking to the broad electorate they're going to need to eventually win the White House in 2016.

BLITZER: And Hillary Clinton is going to be delivering a speech tomorrow. She's been in the background, right?

KEILAR: Yes, she has. She came out on some issues, the politics of vaccines a couple of weeks ago, but she hasn't touched this with a ten-foot pole. And when you talk to some people who are close to her, they are thrilled by what is going on with Republicans. There's a story various -- machinations of the story about the Clinton foundation and donations coming from foreign governments and individuals. It's competing for oxygen with this story, with Scott Walker and Rudy Giuliani and they are quite happy on some of these to sit back and let Republicans just take up some of the --

BROWNSTEIN: Who would have thought it would be a dramatic political statement to come out for vaccines?


(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. That's it for me.

Thanks very much for watching. Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNsitroom. Please be sure to join us again tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.