Return to Transcripts main page


Airliner 'Obliterated,' Black Box Recovered; Bad Weather Expected to Continue at Crash Site; Airliner 'Obliterated,' Black Box Recovered; Israel Calls Iran Spying Report 'Utterly False'. Aired 5-6 p ET

Aired March 24, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, obliterated. Rescuers make their way to the remote and extraordinarily rugged site where an airliner slammed into a mountain. It's a scene of absolute devastation. Could anyone have survived?

Investigation: New details on what may have caused the plane to go into a dive suddenly during what should have been the safest part of its flight. A black box has now been found. What clues will it provide?

Spying by an ally? Allegations that Israel spied on secret nuclear negotiations with Iran and then leaked what it learned.

And deadly force: a blistering federal report reveals a huge number of shootings by Philadelphia police, with half of the suspects turning out to be unarmed. What's behind the shocking numbers?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Our breaking news. Investigators are now starting to pore over a black box recovered from the horrific crash site in the French Alps, where an airliner that went down today with 150 people on board.

The Germanwings Airbus A-320 was flying from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany, with 144 passengers and 6 crew members. Suddenly, it went into a dive and minutes later slammed into a mountain. All on board are presumed dead.

Video from the scene shows widely scattered debris. One official says the plane was obliterated. The remote crash site is very difficult to reach. The terrain is extremely rough. And the weather is bad, with more rain and snow on the way.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're all standing by for the latest developments. And I'll speak live with the former National Transportation Safety Board chair, Deborah Hersman.

But let's begin with CNN's Pamela Brown. She has the very latest -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the cause of the crash is still very much a mystery. The plane in this crash is considered the workhorse of aviation. It has an impeccable safety record and just received a maintenance check yesterday.

Yet, just as it reached cruising altitude today, a terrifying turn of events took place.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight new images show first responders carefully traversing the jagged French Alps where the Germanwings plane went down. Investigators say just three minutes after the doomed flight reached a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, usually the safest part of a flight, something went horribly wrong. Flight tracking sites show the plane climbed to a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet before starting an unplanned descent, dropping to 11,400 over eight minutes. Its last known altitude was 6,000 feet.

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: This airplane didn't fall out of the sky. Something occurred that I believe controlled it to get out of the sky, and I believe it was done through the crew, or as mentioned, through the autopilot.

BROWN: A French government official says the plane was obliterated upon impact. Then came the grim announcement from French President Francois Hollande.

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): There are many victims, 150.

BROWN: Everyone on board is presumed dead, including two babies. The flight took off from Barcelona, Spain, at 10:01 local time in the morning, en route to Dusseldorf, Germany. Just over 50 minutes later, Flight 9525 disappeared from radar. French authorities say there was no distress call from the plane.

ABEND: You would think that some sort of communication would have gotten out, so that does disturb me to some degree. However, if this was a serious emergency that this airplane was experiencing, this crew was experiencing, they may have been focused on taking care of their airplane.

BROWN: First spot of the wreckage above an alpine village in France, in a snow-covered rugged crevice with no service roads. Despite the challenging conditions, the French interior minister says crews found one of the plane's black boxes, but recovering the bodies could take days.


BROWN: And that's because of the rugged terrain and the weather. French officials say it's causing a lot of challenges to the rescuers. And it's too early to know at this point what exactly happened until the black boxes and the debris are analyzed. And at this point, the White House says there is no nexus to terrorism. Of course, French authorities are taking the lead with the investigation.

BLITZER: Yes, they're looking at all that. Thanks very much, Pamela, for that.

What could have caused the airliner to go into a dive shortly after reaching its cruising altitude, which should have been the safest part of its flight? Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, has been looking into some of the possibilities.

What are you finding out, Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the facts we do have make this crash even more perplexing. This is an aircraft that we're talking about here essentially, as Pamela said, that it is the workhorse of the aviation community. We know that it has an impeccable safety record. We know that the aircraft had received its maintenance check just yesterday. And the captain of the plane, we can also tell you, has been with the airline for more than ten years.

[17:05:17] So what could have gone wrong? You can see that the plane's rapid descent, it was very steady. When you look at these flight-tracking web sites you can see that it was not an abrupt descent.

You look at the line there, and you get the impression this was very much so a controlled descent. And the pilots did it quite rapidly.

So why would you want to do that? Well, one reason could be a loss in cabin pressure. We saw that with Aloha Airlines flight back in 1988. That particular aircraft made so many takeoffs and landings the constant pressurization and depressurization, it caused stress to the skin of the plane. And that caused some extensive damage to the fuselage. That led to loss of cabin pressure.

As you know, Wolf, at 38,000 feet in the air, you -- if you don't have oxygen, you're essentially going to pass out. So you want to get your mask on. And what the pilot will often do is get the plane to a lower altitude so passengers can breathe.

But what's so puzzling at this point is, essentially, you know, before it crashed into these mountains here, why is it for so many minutes the pilots did not communicate with air traffic control? Was it a situation in which perhaps they were incapacitated? We don't know. Of course that's something that investigators are going to be looking into. Of course there's also pilot error, and we also know that potentially mechanical error could be an issue, as well. This is a highly, highly computerized aircraft, Wolf.

BLITZER: And they haven't found any evidence to believe, as we've noted, that it could be terrorism or anything along those lines. No evidence of that at all, at least not yet.

Rene, thanks very much.

There's deep shock and an outpouring of grief at the airport in Barcelona, Spain, where Flight 9525 originated. Let's go there. CNN's Karl Penhaul is on the scene for us. What's it like over there,


KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in the course of the afternoon, we've seen scores of family members and relatives coming to the crisis center that has been set up at Barcelona Airport Terminal 2. Many of them have been arm in arm with other relatives, many of them weeping as they come through the gates here, all headed on with their heads down, not wishing to speak to the media at this time. Their priority is to get with airline authorities so they can get information firsthand.

Also in that crisis center, teams of medics and psychologists are on hand to help them with the support that they need at this time. Overnight they're going to be moved to three motels around Barcelona Airport. And then come the morning, Lufthansa is saying it's looking at the opportunity of possibly flying them to France, where they can be closer to the recovery operations and closer to firsthand information.

What Lufthansa is also working on is getting a complete list of the nationalities that were on that flight. Barcelona is a very cosmopolitan city. It's a tourist center. But it's also a commercial and industrial hub. So a lot of those people on board could have been tourists returning home or going on vacation. Others, we understand from local media, could have been Spanish businessmen heading to trade fairs in parts of Germany.

We do know, as well, that at least 16 people on board were 16 teenagers, German teenagers, who had been on a school exchange program in a town just north of Barcelona. They were on that flight along with their two teachers.

But we're also hearing not only Germans, not only Spanish, we're hearing from the Colombian government that two Colombians were on that flight, as well. We're hearing from our affiliate TV stations in Australia. They're quoting the Australian foreign minister, saying that Australians were on the flight, as well. We're hearing that Turks may also have been on that flight. So certainly a very cosmopolitan list of passengers. This is certainly a tragedy that is going to span nations. It is also going to span generations. We hear that two of the youngest on that flight were just babies, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, so sad indeed. And we're hearing from officials here in Washington, they're checking to see if any Americans were on that plane also. Karl Penhaul, thanks very much.

Joining us now is Deborah Hersman. She chaired the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board. She's now president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

So Deborah, thanks very much for joining us. Even though the searchers are having great difficulty accessing this crash site, there are photos of the plane, debris. How much will investigators learn from the actual wreckage itself? DEBORAH HERSMAN, PRESIDENT/CEO, NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL: They're

going to learn the most when they recover the black boxes, the CVS and the SVR. But they can learn a lot from the debris field, and particularly if they find something on the flight data recorder that kind of guides them to a part of the aircraft, one of the four quadrants of the airplane, the nose, tail and two wings.

[17:10:07] If there were any control surface problems or control ability issues, hydraulics issues or engine problems, they're going to want to take a really close look at that part of the debris. But the black boxes are the best information that they can get.

BLITZER: Well, I know they've found one, I'm not exactly sure if they've found the flight data recorder of the cockpit voice recorder. There are conflicting reports out there about that. What's most important if they only find one?

HERSMAN: You know, that's like trying to ask someone to pick between their children. They're both really important. The flight data recorder will give them potentially 1,000 parameters of the aircraft and what the aircraft was doing, what control were directed. You know, it will give them a lot of information about the aircraft.

But the cockpit voice recorder is really critical information, because it will tell you what the pilots were doing, what they were saying to each other, what they were identifying as problems or even if they knew there was a problem. You can hear things such as slurred speech. If people become incapacitated, you can hear that.

So they're both really important. Some of the recorders out there are dual combination recorders. But I think we're going to have to see what they brought off that mountain.

BLITZER: And once they get both. Let's say if they're dual recorders or whatever, once they have both, how long does it take to get the information from those recorders and start learning what happened?

HERSMAN: Well, if they don't have a lot of damage to the recorders, they can get information off of them literally within a few hours. They can audition or do a quick listen to the CVR and really sketch out what they heard, particularly in the part that's really appropriate to the investigation.

With the flight data recorder, it does take a little bit longer to make sure that they're able to corroborate all of the times and the information but they, again, can get a real quick view just within a couple of hours if they're not damaged.

BLITZER: All right. Deborah Hersman, I want you to stand by. We have a lot more to assess right. More new information is also coming in. We'll take a quick break.

Much more with the former head of the NTSB, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Breaking news: A German airliner with 150 people on board crashes in the French Alps. All are presumed dead. Rugged mountain terrain and bad weather are making it very difficult to reach the crash site. But one black box already has been recovered.

We're back with Deborah Hersman, the former NTSB chair. She's now president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

Deborah, in November a Lufthansa Airbus A-321 dropped, what, 4,000 feet in one minute after the autopilot lowered the jet's nose. How closely should investigators be looking right now at that autopilot system on all of these Airbus planes?

HERSMAN: You know, I think they'll be looking at all past events to try to identify any similarities. But I think the circumstances of this event, at least with respect to the loss of altitude, is very difficult. And so they'll really want to understand what caused this aircraft to descend at the rate and the way that it did, whether it was manual by the pilots or whether it was done by the autopilot.

BLITZER: The flight, as you know, was originally flying at a cruising altitude about an hour after takeoff from Barcelona at 38,000 feet. That's thought to be the safest point of a flight, right? So what are the options investigators are considering now as to what went wrong?

HERSMAN: You know, cruise flight -- cruise flight is actually one of the safest parts of flight, because you don't see as many events. But when you have a loss of control or you have an event that's catastrophic at cruise, you actually have the potential to lose the entire plane like you do -- like you're seeing here in this situation.

So it's really important for them to understand what was going on. I know that there are going to be so many things on the table. They could be looking at pressurization of the aircraft. They could be looking at equipment. There -- apparently, the aircraft had been inspected. There was maintenance done just the day before. They'll want to look very closely at those maintenance records. If anything was changed out or if anything was checked, they're going to want to know what that was.

Again, the black boxes are going to be able to give them, really, a road map. Investigators like to get them early so then they know which clues to go after.

BLITZER: What does it tell you, Deborah, that there was a distress call from the air traffic control tower on the ground, obviously, not necessarily from the plane itself from the cockpit?

HERSMAN: Well, you know, pilots are always taught to aviate, navigate, and communicate. And so it's really about flying the airplane first if there's something going on.

But given the amount of time that lapsed between when they left their cruise altitude to the ultimate crash, there was a lot of time, at least to send out a beacon, a distress call, something. And so not seeing that coming from the crew is really going to be an important point for them to understand why didn't this crew communicate that there was something happening on the airplane when they had that much time?

So that leads us to ask, did they have that much time in understanding what happened? The fact that air traffic control put the call out, that's really important, because it's non demonstrating that they are tracking the airplane. They're trying to communicate, and they are actually being proactive about saying there's a problem here.

Everyone is going to be looked at in the investigation and the amount of time that lapsed between when decisions were made or communications happened will be critical.

[17:20:06] BLITZER: Because once it went down from 38,000 feet and began, what, a controlled descent over the next, what, six, seven, eight minutes, whatever it was until it crashed into the French Alps over there, no communication whatsoever. They'll be listening very closely, assuming they find the voice -- the cockpit voice recorder, to see what, if anything, was said, if the pilots were even talking to each other, right, or if they were out cold, and it was just in sort of a controlled descent.

HERSMAN: That's right. There's a lot of things that could have gone on. And so understanding what situation the pilots were facing is important. But also the settings that the aircraft was in. Again, whether the controls were manually manipulated or whether they were automatically set and the aircraft was just following a plugged-in trajectory or rate of descent. That will be important to investigators.

BLITZER: Do they automatically look at the pilots in a situation like this to determine if there could have been anything that could have caused a pilot or a co-pilot or whatever to want to do this? There have been cases of pilots wanting to commit suicide, right?

HERSMAN: Sure. And I think that always comes up in investigations early on, is to understand the human, the machine and the environment. And so clearly, when they're looking at the humans, they're looking at their experience, their history, not just whether or not they've had the proper training and the amount of hours in the cockpit but also their work/rest history. Are they fatigued? Are there things going on in their lives, whether it's personal or work, that need to be paid attention to?

They'll be, you know, looking at toxicology tests. And so investigations by their very nature look at everything. They'll be looking at the aircraft to determine what maintenance or condition it might have been in, and then they'll be looking at the environment. Was there anything going on? What were the weather conditions? What could have affected this flight differently than all of the other flights that were in that area?

BLITZER: If you were investigating, what's the first thing you'd be looking for?

HERSMAN: Well, certainly those boxes. Like I said, if you get those boxes, they will give you the road map to what's next: where you want to go, what steps you want to take, who you want to talk to. It will really point you in the right direction.

But I think with respect to these early hours of any crash, it's all about the victims and their families and making sure that they get taken care of and get the information in a timely manner. You've got to pay attention to that when you're on the ground.

BLITZER: Deborah Hersman, thanks very much for joining us.

HERSMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, rain, snow and frozen terrain slowing the search- and-recovery operations in the French Alps. We're going to get a forecast for what's going on in this mountain crash site.

And why was there no distress call from the airliner before it went down? Our aviation experts are standing by. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Breaking news: Rugged mountain terrain right now making it very difficult for search teams to reach the site in the French Alps where a German airliner went down with 150 people on board. Bad weather seriously complicating the situation. Let's turn to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. She's got the very latest on this part of the story -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Wolf. The terrain making things very, very difficult. Even on a clear day, it is hard to get to where this crash site is. There are no towns around. There are no roads in, and there are no roads out. So basically, the only option is choppers. You can drop folks in there. They still have to hike down or go to the nearest town, and they still have to do some hiking to get into this location. You can see, extremely remote.

We do know that during the crash their visibility was OK. We had relatively clear skies. But we also know that things are going to change very, very quickly as we go into the next 12 to 24 hours, and that is going to make for very difficult circumstances as those searchers go out there.

So once the plane took off, we know that conditions were OK. But as we go forward in time, Wolf, we have a cold front moving in. And what that is going to do is bring in rain, and it could possibly bring in snow, depending on the elevation, the exact elevation of that crash.

We could also get some snow in the next 24 to 48 hours. Of course, we are going to continue to watch it. It could be at least two days, though, before we have a little bit of clearing. The choppers can't get out when you have the low ceiling, the low clouds. And we also know that if rain and snow is in the area, it is going to make conditions even more difficult.

BLITZER: All right, Jennifer, thanks very much. Let's bring in our panel of experts, our aviation analyst and former

NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz; our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director; our safety analyst, David Soucie, he's a former FAA safety inspector and accident investigator; and via Skype, our aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien, is joining us, as well.

Peter, getting the first images of the crash scene. We see a lot of really small pieces of this plane. What does that say?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, the plane hit the ground at a very high rate of speed. When you see fragmentation like that, it means that the plane went straight in. And that's going to make it extremely difficult for the investigators. They're not going to get a whole lot out of the wreckage. And more importantly, it's going to make it very difficult to identify the victims.

BLITZER: So David Soucie, it looks like, from these images at least, they suggest that the plane broke apart upon crashing into that mountain, as opposed to breaking apart in the air, right?

[17:30:04] DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It did. There appears to be one and possibly two scatter points at which it hit the ground at one point and then another one just ahead of that.

But my primary concern at this point is that in this accident investigation would be the safety of the inspectors and the on-site investigators. The last thing you want to do is add to the victim list by having somebody get hurt out there. So that's what they're watching for first.

I've had to spend the night in the mountains before on an accident when I wasn't able to be extracted. So I caution them against over- exuberance and take their time and please be careful when they're doing this.

BLITZER: Miles, as you know, there was no distress call issued from the cockpit. Was it possible -- I'm just raising the question -- that the pilots -- pilot and co-pilot -- didn't know they were descending until it was too late?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I suppose that's possible, Wolf. It's unlikely, however. I think, you know, what you have here is not the typical template for an emergency situation, which would be -- you know, think of Sully. You declare an emergency. It's a mayday. You look for the nearest landing field. You certainly wouldn't continue onward to a mountain range if you had a problem like this.

So was this crew incapacitated in some way, or was there some sort of problem with the pressurization system which allowed them to (AUDIO GAP) -- and they couldn't get a radio call off? Was the plane not set up for altitude hold on the autopilot, and it went down without them being awake, if you will? That's, I suppose, a possibility. But you can't overlook the possibility that this was somehow a deliberate act, because none of this stacks up for the typical professional pilot response to an emergency. BLITZER: Tom, I guess right now U.S. officials and others are saying

they don't see any evidence, any nexus to terrorism or anything like that. But they're looking at all these various options, right?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. There's none known at this point, but it's not impossible. And ISIS has recruiting cells in Spain, and they have support groups in Spain. You remember the "Charlie Hebdo" attack. Boumeddiene, the female, went from Barcelona to Istanbul. And we've had other cases where ISIS recruited people to fly from Barcelona to Istanbul. So, you know, there are a number of Moroccans that go into Spain in order to go to ISIS and use Barcelona Airport as their transit. So you can't completely rule anything out at this point.

BLITZER: The White House has acknowledged in their statement, they say they see no evidence of any terrorism or anything like that.

But, Peter, you're very familiar with how these investigations go. And remind our viewers -- I don't want to cast dispersions on the pilot or the pilots -- but they're looking at the backgrounds of both, right?

GOELZ: Absolutely. When you have an event like this, you dig into the background of the pilots. It's not unheard of that pilots occasionally do irrational things. And they will check and see if they had any financial difficulties, any psychological challenges that had revealed themselves prior to the accident. They're going to look at every option.

BLITZER: Because I remember you I believe were part of the team that investigated that Egypt Air crash, right?

GOELZ: We looked at Egypt Air, in which the co-pilot flew the plane into the ocean on purpose.

BLITZER: Well, you deliberately concluded -- you concluded, after all your evidence, this was suicide by the co-pilot.

GOELZ: Yes, we did. That was not the first time. There was also a Silk Air accident in the late '90s that we also saw suicide.

BLITZER: It's so mysterious, David, that in those final, what, six or seven minutes or so there was no distress call, nothing coming from the cockpit. And that raises all sorts of questions because, even if they were trying to deal with the navigation system or whatever, how long does it take to hit a button and say, "Mayday, mayday, mayday"?

SOUCIE: Certainly not that long. And that is the biggest question in this for me, and it indicates -- kind of smacks of an accident back in 1972 of the L-1011 that was flying into Miami. And they had some difficulties, and they were distracted by the fact that the landing gear wouldn't go down. So they were so focused on that, three people in the cockpit, they didn't notice that the autopilot had actually tripped off, and the aircraft slowly descended into the Everglades. And that was one of the most deadly disasters of all time in aviation. So this seems that it may fit that profile, that the aircraft was descending, but they were distracted by another emergency of some type and didn't have a chance to make any corrective action until it was too late.

BLITZER: Why they wouldn't try to divert that plane or land at Marseilles, which has a huge runway. Obviously, that's going to be investigated, as well.

All right. Everybody stay with us. We have a lot more coming up. I'll be getting new information on the investigation into today's deadly airliner crash.

We're also following other important stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Breaking now, Israel denies a report of spying on those nuclear talks involving Iran, used the information to try to lobby Congress against the new deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

Coming up, what happened when President Obama was asked about this issue earlier today.


BLITZER: We'll have much more coming up on today's airliner crash that took 150 lives. Is there a problem with similar planes here in the United States? But there's other important news that's breaking right now.

At the White House today, President Obama refused to comment on a "Wall Street Journal" report that Israel is spying on the talks over Iran's nuclear program. Also acquired information on confidential U.S. briefings, then used that information to lobby U.S. lawmakers against the possible deal.

[17:40:05] A senior official in the Israeli prime minister's office tells CNN reports that the Israelis were conducting espionage, or spying directly on the United States, that officials says those reports are utterly false.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's got the latest on this very sensitive story.

What are you learning over there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at a news conference with the new president of Afghanistan, President Obama refused to accept Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's explanations about his stance on Palestinian statehood, as there are new signs, the "Wall Street Journal" article one of them, that this relationship is only getting worse.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Describing his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as businesslike, President Obama said there's nothing personal in their disagreement on two key issues: the Iran nuclear talks and prospects for Palestinian statehood.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This can't be reduced to a matter of somehow let's all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya."

ACOSTA: The president rejected Netanyahu's latest positon in favor of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, something the prime minister rejected just before his reelection.

OBAMA: He pointed out that he didn't say never, but that there would be a series of conditions in which a Palestinian state could potentially be created. But of course, the conditions were such that they would be impossible to meet anytime soon.

ACOSTA: Making matters worse, senior Obama administration officials complained to the "Wall Street Journal" that Israel is spying on the Iranian nuclear talks and leaking details to Congress.

It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. The newspaper quoted one official. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. Legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy. The president tried to laugh that off.

OBAMA: As a general rule, I don't comment on intelligence matters in a big room full of reporters.

ACOSTA: But lawmakers on both sides are puzzled. House Speaker John Boehner denied receiving any classified information from the Israelis.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm not sure what the information was here, but I'm baffled by it.

ACOSTA: As did the top two men on the House Intelligence Committee.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: We have not been briefed by the Israelis on anything that's in the "Wall Street Journal" article at all.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: In none of those cases have the Israelis discussed with me anything that I would consider classified or even all that sensitive.

ACOSTA: The Israeli prime minister's office is denying it all, saying, "These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel's other allies."

But the accusations are not completely new. Just last month, the White House was openly complaining about Israeli leaks.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's no question that some of the things that the Israelis have said in characterizing our negotiating position have not been accurate.


ACOSTA: And Republicans suspect some of the anonymous complaints about Israeli's spying coming from the administration officials are just more sour grapes from the White House over Netanyahu's meddling in the Iran nuclear talks. As one GOP aide put it to me, it's flat- out laughable to say that the Israelis had to tell the U.S. Congress that this is a bad deal with Iran, Wolf.

BLITZER: And another major decision by the president today. He announced that he was going to slow down the pace of the U.S. withdrawal of military troops from Afghanistan. Tell us why this change occurred.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. Right now, there are roughly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The president had set out a time line to cut that by half, roughly by half by the end of this year. That's no longer happening.

The president is now halting that drawdown. He's doing that because he says he has a better relationship with the new Afghan government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is somebody that the White House has a lot of high hopes for.

And I think they're trying to make this commitment to him to show him that and to have some hopes that they can keep it -- a lid on the Taliban in these next couple of years. But the White House is adamant, Wolf, that a near total withdrawal will happen by the time President Obama's is out.

BLITZER: By the end of 2016, early 2017 all U.S. troops, he says, will be out, even if the withdrawal is slowed down between now and then. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

Coming up, we'll have more on today's deadly crash. What caused an airliner with 150 people on board to smash into a mountainside?

But up next, there's a shocking new report on police shootings in one of the country's major cities, including dozens of cases where the suspects were unarmed when police fired their guns.


[17:48:55] BLITZER: We have much more coming up on the investigation into today's airliner crash that took 150 lives. There are thousands of similar planes in the sky, including right here in the United States.

Here's the question -- are they safe? Stand by. There's new information coming in.

But we're also following a scathing new report exposing a staggering number of police shootings in Philadelphia, including many instances of officers shooting unarmed people.

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this report.

Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an astounding report out from the Justice Department tonight on the dangerous situation on Philadelphia's streets. It says police-involved shootings in that city have gone way up consistently in recent years even while the violent crime rate has been going down.


TODD (voice-over): In Philadelphia, 26-year-old Brandon Tate Brown pulled over for driving with his headlights off, shot and killed by police. The D.A. says Tate Brown fought with officers, reached for a gun. Tensions boiled over at a community meeting when the D.A. declined to bring charges against the police. The Tate Brown case, part of a staggering pattern of shootings by Philadelphia Police.

[17:50:02] In a new report, the Justice Department says over the last eight years, nearly 400 officer involved shootings took place in Philadelphia. That means police opened fire on suspects or their guns otherwise discharged almost once a week. Community leader Reverend Mark Tyler says the relationship between police and residents in Philadelphia has been poisonous for decades.

REV. MARK KELLY TYLER, MOTHER BETHEL AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH: The police often come in and treat persons as though they are an occupying force. Many times, persons are walked up to with the presumption of guilt and you've got to prove that you're innocent.

TODD: The new DOJ report says since 2007 59 unarmed suspects were shot, about 15 percent of all the police shootings. Almost half those incidents, according to the report, were, quote, "threat perception failures," cases where officers thought suspects were going for weapons but instead the suspects had cell phones or were reaching for something else. A former FBI assistant director says the stats don't tell the whole story.

(On camera): In those moments, how tough is it?

RON HOSKO, LAW ENFORCEMENT, LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: It's dark out, I have just chased somebody, we may be wrestling to secure that person's arrest and suddenly that person is reaching into a place, maybe reaching towards me, maybe throwing punches at me, or trying to reach for my weapon. That is a hard, hard decision to make in a millisecond.

TODD (voice-over): The overwhelming number of suspects in officer involves shootings in Philadelphia are African-American. Almost 60 percent of the police officers involved were white, 34 percent black. But Justice Department officials stress they are not alleging racial discrimination in these cases. Philly's police chief isn't trying to hide the problems.

CHIEF CHARLES RAMSAY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE: Listen, in case you haven't noticed, I'm black myself. So I'm not real proud of the fact that we have a disproportionate amount of crime occurring in African- American communities.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: They report says a huge part of the problem in Philadelphia is inadequate training, inexperienced officers being tossed into street patrols, not enough weapons or threat perception training. But law enforcement expert Ron Hosko says this is all not easy to fix with budget cuts over the past few years, police departments simply don't have the money to train or to replace police officers on the street while they are being trained -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, how many of these police shootings turned out to be fatal?

TODD: That is a shocking number, Wolf. Almost a quarter of them. A Justice Department official told me 88 suspects shot and killed by Philadelphia Police between 2007 and 2013. That is 23 percent of all the suspects shot, Wolf. One of the staggering figures in this report.

BLITZER: Staggering indeed.

All right, Brian, thank you. Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our justice reporter, Evan Perez, and our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI.

So this is a pretty devastating blow to the Philadelphia Police Department. What do they do about this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, now they're going to work with the Justice Department. This is a report that Charles Ramsay, the head of the police department there, had actually requested from the Justice Department. So now they're going to work together to try and implement some recommendation to try to improve training and try to get the cops there to be able respond better to these situations.

The interesting thing is that Charles Ramsay is also the head of President Obama's task force on 21st century policing systems. It's a little embarrassing that the guy who is heading this commission, to try to improve policing around the country, heads the police department with this kind of problem.

BLITZER: He used to be the head of the police force here in Washington.

PEREZ: Here in Washington.

BLITZER: D.C. has got an excellent reputation as an outstanding cop.

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: As you know, Tom, this whole issue of what's called threat perception failures, almost half of the times the cops got it wrong. They thought it was a real threat, apparently there wasn't.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the police officers are out there in the dark, Wolf. And somebody reaches in their pockets or, you know, into their pants or jacket. And, you know, police officers don't have x-ray vision. They don't, you know, have the ability to see in complete darkness. And so threat perception is what they think is happening and they may get it wrong just because of that alone.

You know, these are difficult situations, as Ron Hosko, the former assistant director, said. And it's very easy to second guess and that split second decision that the officer makes, we can talk about it for the next 10 years on whether it should have been made or not been made. But that's a difficult circumstances.

BLITZER: Would it make any sense to use tasers, for example, instead of lethal -- a lethal weapon?

FUENTES: Well, the problem with a taser is, it's one shot, one chance, and maybe it will work and maybe it won't. So if you're an officer and you're in fear of your life, you're going to go for the pistol, not the taser.

If you have time to assess it, there are several officers and it's a standoff, and you can decide, well, you know, like a golfer, I'll pick this club instead of that club. That's great. But in the heat of the moment, life and death situation the taser is not going to be the first choice.

BLITZER: It's a clearly different situation in Ferguson, right?

PEREZ: Much different, Wolf. This is not -- there's no allegation, as Brian Todd, just said, of racial discrimination, of being the cause of this, simply training. And I think that's the fix here.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much, Evan and Tom.

Coming up, an airliner slams into a mountain. Why did it suddenly dive from cruising altitude? Why was there no distress call?



BLITZER: Happening now, deadly nosedive. CNN is now heading to the remote mountainside where a commercial airliner has crashed with 150 people on board, including students and babies. We're standing by for a live report.

So what went wrong? Why did an Airbus jet like this one suddenly fall out of the sky during the safest part of the flight? Thousands of passengers are flying on similar planes right now.

[18:00:01] Zimmerman versus Obama. The man acquitted in Trayvon Martin's death is publicly blaming the president of the United States for racial tensions in America, but he's apparently not blaming himself.