Return to Transcripts main page


Close Call with Russian Fighter Jet Increases Tensions; Interview with Rep. Adam Kinzinger; Iraqis: 2,300 U.S. Armored Vehicles Abandoned to ISIS; New CNN Poll: 61% Say Renew Patriot Act Spying; TSA Failed 95% of Security Tests; U.S. Vulnerable to North Korea Missile Attack. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 1, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:24] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now -- close call. A Russian fighter jet roars low and close to a U.S. destroyer on patrol. But it's the Russians who are now complaining. We have new information on the latest aggressive moves in an increasingly tense relationship.

ISIS terror attack. As more U.S. equipment falls into the terrorists' hands, suicide bombers are starting to use a frightening and potentially unstoppable new tactic.

Checkpoint failure. While TSA officers are often busy confiscating your shampoo and toothpaste, an alarming new study from TSA says they're almost always missing weapons that could bring down your plane.

And missile threat. While Kim Jong-Un refines his ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs, a new warning says U.S. anti-missile systems may not work. Is the West Coast of the United States at risk?

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


BLITZER: Breaking news, disturbing new developments in two of the biggest security challenges facing the United States. Today, an ISIS suicide bomber attacked at a Iraqi security base using a bomb-laden tank. Reports say the Iraqis couldn't stop it. Tonight, there's growing concern that as ISIS gets its hands on more U.S.-made armored vehicles abandoned by the Iraqi military, more frequent and deadly attacks may be on the way.

We're also following a new flare-up in tensions between the United States and Russia. The U.S. military just released this video of an alarmingly close call between a U.S. destroyer and a Russian fighter jet. Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, he's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He'll take our questions. And reporters and experts, they've been working their sources. They are standing by as well.

But let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She has the very latest on this U.S. destroyer's very close call with a Russian fighter jet. Barbara? the U.S. Navy released the video. Explain what they've said about this. It's pretty rare for the Pentagon to release video like this. Isn't it?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is indeed, Wolf. These encounters happened. The Pentagon doesn't like to talk about them. They almost never release any video or pictures of this.

This was Saturday in the Black Sea. Look, that's a Russian Sacoy 24 fighter jet just swooping past the right side of the U.S.S. Ross, the Navy destroyer, in the Black Sea. It was about 25 miles off Crimea, but it was in international waters. And this jet comes by.

Now, why did all of this happen? You know, the Navy is poking a little bit at Moscow right now, saying that the wings of the Sacoy 24 were, in the Pentagon's word, naked. What do they mean? The plane was not armed. This was not a military confrontation. This is more of a political confrontation, if you will. There were no missiles under the wings, no weapons onboard the airplane. The Navy ship saw this coming at a distance and filmed it. The Pentagon deciding to release it, because the Russians, after this, suddenly start talking in their media how they chased off a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea. The Navy says the U.S.S. Ross never changed course. Everyone acted professionally. The U.S.S. Ross went on its way, 25 miles off Crimea.

But a fascinating piece of video about what life is like out there when Washington and Moscow, when the two militaries, come across each other. Wolf?

BLITZER: The Russians say, Barbara, as you know, that the destroyer, the U.S.S. Ross, they say the crew acted provocatively and aggressively, was heading straight, they say, for Russian waters. I guess the bottom line question, how concerned are Pentagon officials about this clearly escalating and deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and Russia?

STARR: Right. I mean, that's really the underling point to all this. Everybody is exchanging a war of words, putting video out of their side of the story. No indication that the Ross was under threat. But this is not really -- this war of words is not what the U.S. wants to see. Because in situations like this, a ship, a fighter jet, miscalculations can happen. Misunderstandings can happen. And the problem is, you can have disaster on a moment's most. A military miscalculation is not what Washington wants to see at this point.

[17:05:05] So the fact that the Russians went home and started talking in such aggressive terms, certainly does cause some concern at the Pentagon.

BLITZER: Yes, the fact that the Pentagon released that video, obviously, that video very disturbing. Barbara, thank you.

Now to the alarming new terror tactics being used by ISIS. A suicide bomber drove a tank loaded with explosives right into an Iraqi security base near Samarra before dawn today, killing close to three dozen Iraqi police, wounding 48 others.

Our senior correspondent Arwa Damon is joining us now live from Baghdad. What's the latest, Arwa, on this ISIS terror attack?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the reason why there were so many casualties, we are being told, is because when that tank exploded, it exploded right next to where this unit was storing its weapons. This is the first time that we are aware of that ISIS has used a tank as a suicide vehicle, but it's not the first time that ISIS is using vehicles that are armored. In other words, bullets cannot easily stop them when trying to target the Iraqi security forces.

They use bulldozers that are either already armored or that they've put armor onto. They use vehicles that they modify so that they are not easily stoppable. And this is one of the key reasons how ISIS was able to send wave after wave of suicide bombers into key cities like Ramadi, like other areas as well, and the Iraqi security forces are quite simply unable to stop these vehicles from reaching their destination and detonating.

This is a tactic that ISIS has modified; this is a tactic that is much more difficult to handle than anything U.S. forces themselves faced when they were here in Iraq, and it most certainly is showing just how ISIS is evolving its military capabilities in this very complicated battlefield, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa, the prime minister of Iraq, Haider al Abadi, says ISIS has stockpiled weapons, mostly U.S. weapons left behind when the U.S. left, whether humvees or battle tanks, artillery pieces. That stockpile is growing. What's the latest on that front>

DAMON: Well, the prime minister came out with a specific figure earlier today on state television saying that ISIS managed to capture 2,300 humvees alone from the bases that the Iraqi security forces deserted in Mosul. That's not to mention the tanks they got their hands on, the artillery, the arms, the weapons, everything that these troops left behind as they fled their positions.

And all of these elements are mostly things that were provided by the United States. Very sophisticated weaponry; the types of military vehicles that, back in the day, ISIS could only dream of getting its hands on. And we're seeing this terrorist organization constantly evolving its tactics on the ground.

We were earlier in the day interviewing the head of Iraq's Air Force, and he was telling us that the reason why, or one of the reasons why, the air strikes are seeming to be ineffective is because ISIS has modified its way of handling them. It's no longer traveling around the country in these large, brazen convoys. It's using civilian vehicles to ferry its fighters around in smaller numbers. Often traveling without weapons, and that is why they are so difficult to detect, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Baghdad for us. Thanks, Arwa. Be careful over there. Another important national security story that's breaking right now,

the U.S. Senate is debating on a change or revive at least parts of the Patriot Act even though several key spying programs now have expired due to Senate gridlock and politics. The Obama administration is pushing for quick action.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Michelle Kosinski is standing by with the very latest. Michelle?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey Wolf. Right, this started out as a storm over how best to protect our national security and our privacy, and now, of course, it has also become a political storm. I mean, you have Senator Rand Paul claiming victory now that these parts of the Patriot Act actually did expire for now. But as a result, he's taking a verbal beating from some within his own party, calling his tactics political posturing and fund-raising.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People here in town they I'm making a huge mistake. Some of them I think secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Kentucky's two Senate Republicans at odds.

SEN. MITCH MCCONELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The Senate will be in order.

KOSINSKI: Over allows parts of the Patriot Act to lapse, including the bulk collection of Americans' phone records.

MCCONNELL: That would mean disarming completely and arbitrarily, based on a campaign of disinformation, in the face of growing, aggressive and sophisticated threats.

[17:10:07] That's a totally unacceptable outcome.

KOSINSKI: But that is what happened last night. The programs expired. Senator Rand Paul blocked even an extension of them.

PAUL: I object.

KOSINSKI: And he opposes the bipartisan bill already passed by the House that puts the data collection in the hands of the phone companies, saying that's still just the same overreach, that there are other ways to get the same info. He put out a plan of his own.

PAUL: Let's hire 1,000 more FBI agents! Let's hire people to do the investigation and quit wasting time on innocent American people.

KOSINSKI: Today the White House responded like this --

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we've seen is a whole lot of posturing within the Republican Party. There's a lot of politics being played on this and unfortunately it's coming at the expense of the national security and civil liberties of the American people.

KOSINSKI: Yet the White House still won't say definitively if the American public is at greater risk because of the lapse. It won't give examples of times these programs worked, calling them important tools that have yielded information not found through other means.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to be as vigilant at possible.

KOSINSKI: The war right now at home is political. Republican senators slamming Paul's rhetoric.

SEN. DAN COATS, (R) INDIANA: Some of those facts have been misrepresented, and I listed some quotes from what Senator Paul had said that simply are not true. Obviously, he is running for president.


KOSINSKI (on camera): Even today, the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell tried to collect the unanimous votes necessary to move forward and vote on this issue possibly as soon as tonight. But again, he was blocked by Rand Paul. And the thing is, this ultimately will likely pass, but probably with amendments. I mean, certain senators want to see things like to make sure that the phone companies will collect this data in a usable way. Bottom line is it's going to take some time, but we could see a vote tomorrow, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see what happens. Michelle, thank you.

Let's get more. Joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He served in the U.S. Air Force in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. Where do you stand on this? Should they renew the Patriot Act? Do something else? How concerned are you?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (D), ILLINOIS: Well, look, it absolutely should be renewed.

BLITZER: The whole thing?

KINZINGER: I think the whole thing. I voted for the USA Freedom Act in the House, which basically ends the bulk collecting and goes to -- gives it to the phone companies. That's a fine backup. At the end of the day, though, we cannot leave ourselves unprotected.

And I think it's very obvious that Senator Paul is posturing. I think he really believes some of this stuff, but he's trying to get his pointers, he's running for president. And keep in mind, at the very beginning, when he was a Senator, he put out his own kind of budget blueprint for himself where he slashed the United States military significantly. He's tried remake himself later by saying let's hire 1,000 new FBI agents or I'm actually for building the military, but his knee-jerk reaction is isolationism.

BLITZER: But if it's left in the hands of Verizon or AT&T, the phone companies, how long do they have to keep all that data?

KINZINGER: Well, they have to keep it for a certain amount of time.

BLITZER: How long?

KINZINGER: I don't know the exact length on that.

BLITZER: Because it's unclear right now. Angus King, the Independent senator from Maine, says he's worked about that aspect that's not necessarily spelled out in detail in what the House of Representatives passed pretty overwhelmingly.

KINZINGER: Yeah, and that's one that will probably go to conference and be hashed out in detail.

But look, we have to be careful, too, if we give this to the phone companies, make sure that they have the ability to actually do this. I know there's been some questions about do they have the ability to actually collect and store this information? And how can the government bridge to it? So I think we need to be very careful before saying, you know, look, just let this expire and move on. Because we never know what we're catching and what we may be missing.

BLITZER: Well, some of the stuff has already expired because the midnight deadline from last night. So here's the question: Are Americans less safe right now because some aspects of this are no longer being used? Or do they have some sort of Plan B in business right now to make sure that they're not unsafe, that the American public is still secure?

KINZINGER: Well, look, I know, you know, the people that try to defend America are working their tail off every day to do that. I do think, at this moment in time, we are less safe without this data collection. We've talked to intelligence experts all over that say this is a piece of the overall intelligence gathering puzzle that we use to defend the United States of America. So I think the Senate's going to do the right thing and put something back in place, but I have no doubt that today we are less safe because of this.

BLITZER: So on this issue, and this issue is an important issue, you and Senator Rand Paul totally disagree?

KINZINGER: Yes. This and many other issues, sure.

BLITZER: All right, we'll talk about other issues as well. We'll take a quick break. Much more with Congressman Adam Kinzinger when we come back.



BLITZER: Breaking now, a new terror tactics being used by ISIS. A suicide bomber drove a tank loaded with explosives into an Iraqi security base area today, killing close to three dozen Iraqi police, wounding 48 more. [17:19:39] We're back with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of

Illinois. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressman, the prime minister of Iraq, he said today Iraq -- the Iraqi military, when they abandoned Mosul exactly a year ago, they left behind, and ISIS now has 2,300 Humvees. These are the armored U.S.-supplied Humvees that the American -- the United States gave the Iraqi military. They just abandoned them. And who knows what else they abandoned in Ramadi last week when they fled Ramadi.

When you hear that they're now using these Humvees as suicide improvised explosive devices to go into these Iraqi bases or civilian areas and kill people, you served in Iraq.


BLITZER: What goes through your mind?

KINZINGER: Well, it's concerning, and it's depressing. It's concerning, obviously, for the reasons you outlined. I mean, these are going to be used as vehicle-born IEDs. They are in many cases impenetrable to small arms fire, as we're seeing with the attack on this base. And it's depressing just because, again, so many Americans fought so hard for Iraq.

And the Iraqi people are good people. That's, I think, an untold story, too. They just want -- their kids have hopes and dreams like our kids do. They just want to survive and are being thrust once again into the middle of a messed-up war. So I think it's important, obviously, for us to destroy these -- these Humvees that are in the hands of ISIS. Also ensure we're shutting down...

BLITZER: You said -- how do you -- the United States would destroy them? Through air power?

KINZINGER: I think we'll have to use air power. I think...

BLITZER: Do you know how much to destroy 2,300 Humvees going towards -- Baghdad, or other cities in Iraq? Because what the ISIS fighters do, they first launch suicide attacks, terrorist explosions. And then they scare the Iraqi army into simply fleeing and leaving behind their weapons.

KINZINGER: Yes, they scare the leadership. And when the average ground soldier sees their leadership melt away, they run away, too. So it's going to take a combination of some air power. You hear about the United States sending anti-tank weapons to Iraq. That's also part of the strategy.

BLITZER: Aren't you afraid the Iraqi army's going to abandon that kind of stuff, too, and that ISIS is not going to get anti-tank weapons?

KINZINGER: Yes. We're always afraid of this. At the end of the day we've got to win this war. And it's only going to continue to spiral and get worse. Last thing I want to say is this. You have to shut down any kind of

supply line to fix the vehicles. Humvees breaks a lot, especially in a sand environment like the deserts of Iran. So if you have a tire that pops or you have, you know, an axle that goes bad, we have to ensure that they don't have the ability to repair that. And in many cases, that takes a very complex logistical line, which we can do well. I'm sure ISIS doesn't have that capability.

BLITZER: There's a new CNN poll we're releasing this hour. It says 61 percent, look at this, 61 percent of Americans say things for the United States are going badly in its military action against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.

That number, you see what it was in February, what it was back in October. The American public is clearly losing confidence in what's going on.

KINZINGER: Well, they pay attention. Think about this. This started about a year ago, give or take a couple of months, and where are we at today? A year ago we were talking about the Sinjar Mountain. Today, we're talking about all of Anbar province. We're talking about 2,300 Humvees, and we're hearing 75 percent of our pilots are coming back, unable to drop munition because they don't have targets.

There's plenty of targets that exist. We don't have the intel to get at them. So I think it's going to take, frankly, stepping up, like what we saw in Syria, the eastern part of Syria, when we killed the -- basically, the CFO of ISIS. Take that information you have, find ten more targets. Get those ten people. Wrap up ten more targets, each of those; and begin to do what we did in the surge.

BLITZER: Is it time to think, Tulsi Gabbard, your colleague, in the House of Representatives, she's an Iraq war veteran, as well. And others. Fareed Zakaria has an important article that he wrote the other day, basically saying this notion of Iraq as a unified country may just be a notion nowadays. Maybe a three-state solution, or at least three autonomous areas: Kurdistan in the north, a Shiite area here in the west, a Sunni area in Anbar province, that may be more realistic down the road. You say?

KINZINGER: I think we can talk a little bit about autonomy. The problem is, if you break up Iraq, first off, who are we to break up Iraq, you know? But secondly, if you do that...

BLITZER: For all practical purposes, they say it's already broken up.

KINZINGER: But the problem now you have is there's oil disparity in between it. Shia areas have a lot more oil than Sunni areas. How do you figure that out.

Secondly, there are some Shias that live in Sunni areas, some Sunnis that live in Shia areas. Going to kick them out or take away their rights?

And lastly, the nationalistic movement then, or I guess that sectarian movement, is that going to spread to Saudi Arabia? Is it going to spread to Jordan? Is that going to spread everywhere else, where they say, "Hey, just like you did to Iraq, we're going to fight and basically bring down our central government so we have the ability to have an autonomous region, too."

BLITZER: Congressman Kinzinger, thanks very much for coming in.

KINZINGER: You bet. Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, TSA security officers may be ready to confiscate your lotions or your toothpastes, but when it comes to really dangerous weapons or explosives, a new test found this -- get this -- 95 percent failure rate. So how can that be changed?

Also a new warning that the U.S. West Coast may be vulnerable to North Korea's ballistic missiles.


[17:29:29] BLITZER: Breaking now, while the Senate debates how to change or revive now-expired parts of the Patriot Act, an exclusive new CNN poll just out shows 61 percent support renewing the NSA spying powers.

Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd. The former U.S. congresswoman Jane Harman, she's a leading intelligence expert, now heads the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Also joining us, Fran Townsend. She was President George W. Bush's homeland security advisor.

Fran, that poll shows 61 percent of Americans think Congress should Renew the NSA surveillance program, but yet 67 percent disapprove of how President Obama's handling the government's surveillance of U.S. citizens.

[17:30:12] Is part of the problem here that there's a lot of confusion what is part of the program, what isn't part of the program?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. And look, when the president is advocating for the Congress to take legislative action, he becomes the educator in chief. It's really incumbent upon the president, the cabinet officials and the administration to educate the American people, who will then put pressure on members of Congress as to why this is important.

And so they haven't done a very good job of explaining why Rand Paul's position is positively ridiculous. When he said today that we should just hire more agents.

The fact is, even if the federal government hired more agents, the telcos are not going to hire more people. And the notion that you can just as quickly and effectively write out subpoenas, get those documents produced and returned to you, and that's in any way adequate to the task at hand, where speed is of the essence, is perfectly ridiculous. But the administration has not really explained the need for roving wiretaps and the metadata program.

BLITZER: Telcos being the telephone companies.

Jane, you agree?

JANE HARMAN, WOODROW WILSON INSTITUTE: I do, but I'd also put some blame on Congress beyond Rand Paul. I was part of the group that wrote the amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which includes this metadata program and passed overwhelmingly in 2008.

Those amendments, I think, could be changed. The House has just written a very good bill, the USA Freedom Act, which passed by 338 votes, a miracle, and is supported by the president. The Senate should take that bill tomorrow. I think that may be the only option, but that bill has not been clearly explained. And the fact that the content of telephone calls has not been and cannot be listened to on a retroactive basis has escaped most Americans. It's a miracle that 61 percent do think we ought to have a program.

BLITZER: Phil, you served in the CIA for a long time. As of midnight last night, certain aspects of the program, they're no longer being used, but I understand some operations have been grandfathered in. In other words, they're still continuing, because they were authorized earlier. It's so -- it is complicated.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It is, and I'll tell you, sitting in Langley Virginia or out at Fort Meade, when the National Security Agency is, you've got to be so frustrated with the process. You can judge as an American that this process will continue later in the week when the Congress gets back to it and passes a bill.

But meantime, if you're in the government, you can't make that assumption, because the bill has stopped. In other words, you can't continue the same processes. So, what? For four or five days here, you've got to put new processes in place, because you just can't assume you'll go back to business as usual.

So they'll stop for a bit here. I assume they'll resume later in the week, as you suggest. Ongoing investigations aren't affected by this, but there's a lot of people out there saying, what kind of politics is this for national security?

BLITZER: In our new poll, our new CNN/ORC poll, 76 percent, Phil, of Americans think ISIS does have terrorists -- does have terrorists -- in the United States. Some say that number, a huge number like that, already represents a propaganda victory for ISIS.

MUDD: Well, in some ways it does, if you consider terrorism is an effort to intimidate your adversary. In this case, Americans now believe there's ISIS in their presence.

But this reflects the confusion we just talked about. We have people who say in the Congress we can't figure out how to pass a law, which suggests that the threat is diminished. And then we have the American people say, "We think the threat is increased." This is the most confused situation I've seen in national security in at least a couple years. We've got to resolve this.

BLITZER: Fran, what do you think?

TOWNSEND: Well, I think that's right, Wolf. And you imagine, to Phil's point, what happens when they, when these provisions expire is, the government -- those inside the government fighting terrorism revert to the programs and processes they had in place before these capabilities even existed.

And you're talking about a pencil, and you know, a pen and paper kind of system that is just lethargic. It's very slow. Even with the best of intentions. And it's a real problem when your enemy can hide among you and is very facile. It's a real disadvantage, even if it only goes on for a few days.

BLITZER: Jane, we're seeing ISIS making significant advances in Iraq and Syria, especially in Syria in recent weeks. "The Daily Beast," by the way, now reporting that some of the so-called moderate Syrian rebels were being trained by the United States. They say maybe as many as 1,000 of them. They don't even want to do it anymore. They're not going to accept U.S. training if they can't use that training to fight -- to fight Bashar al-Assad's regime. They want to fight that regime. They don't want to fight ISIS, apparently, as much. Something is going on there that's very, very disturbing.

HARMAN: Yes, it is disturbing. Let me just make one more comment on what's going on in Congress, and that is that the debate about privacy and security is a healthy debate. We should have had it 12 years when we started these programs outside of -- when the Bush administration started the programs. And now we're having it, and I applaud that. But we need both. Protection of privacy and the protection of security.

[17:35:06] And what the House is trying to do, I think, is a -- is a fairly good outcome, given those tensions.

On the -- on the ISIS thing, the problem with being a moderate Sunni is, no one's protecting you. You look at the only other Sunnis in the neighborhood, the one with guns and all kind of tanks stolen from the USA, and they're called ISIS. And then you look at folks who are allegedly going to come protect you, and they're Shia. And you think, "Oh, my goodness, they're going to do ethnic cleansing in my neighborhood."

So sadly, this thing is at a point where what we hoped wouldn't happen is beginning to happen, and that is, the implosion of moderate Sunnis, who are the only, I think, group of people on the ground in these failing countries who can make a difference and tip the balance.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Phil?

MUDD: Look, these modern Sunnis. Can you imagine sitting in their position when the U.S. government comes in to Syria, says, "We're going to give you weapons to fight each other. Your goal is to oust President Assad. We're not with you on that strategic goal. If you're going to use the weapons against Assad, we prefer not." In these kinds of complex situations, 25 years of government, you've

got to really -- got to reduce complexity to simplicity. The simplicity is if we don't share the goal of ousting Assad with moderate Syrian oppositionists, they're going to be confused for the next few years. They're not going to know where we stand with them.

BLITZER: Very final question to you, Fran. Do you think the American public is less secure today than it was yesterday because some aspects of the Patriot Act have lapsed?

TOWNSEND: I do. In particular, the roving wiretap provision is one of those that's lapsed. That is, a bad guy moves from phone to phone. Under the Patriot Act, the government's able to move with that person and not have to get, constantly, separate orders. And just that alone is a -- it particularly, in a very hot, active investigation, a very important provision.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, Jane Harman, Phil Mudd, thanks very, very much.

Coming up, a terrifying new report says the TSA failed to detect nearly every fake bomb, every fake weapon, every fake explosive undercover agents smuggled through the TSA. How safe are the skies?

And as Kim Jong-un races to build up his nuclear-tipped arsenal, there are now new fears that America's missile defenses are unprepared for an attack.


[17:42:03] BLITZER: The TSA is under fire tonight over a stunning new report that says the agency failed 95 percent of undercover tests, allowing fake weapons and explosives past security checkpoints nearly every time. CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh has details from the report.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): TSA officers failed 95 percent of the time during undercover operations designed to test their ability to detect explosives and weapons at airport security checkpoints.

CHAD WOLF, FORMER TSA OFFICER: These are anomalies that TSA screeners and/or their equipment should locate and at least flag for an additional screening.

MARSH: Teams with the Department of Homeland Security inspector general's office posed as passengers and attempted to pass through airport checkpoints with mock explosives and weapons. A government official with knowledge of the results say TSA failed 67 out of 70 tests.

WOLF: To miss 67 out of 70 different instances is extremely alarming, and I would say even dangerous.

I am putting a detonator into the plastic explosive.

MARSH: CNN was there in 2008 for a similar covert operation. That time it was TSA testing its own officers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you see anything?


MARSH: At the checkpoint, the testers wanded and patted down where the fake explosive device was concealed, but the screener missed it. It's not until the tester lifts his shirt up.


MARSH: The Department of Homeland Security says it immediately directed TSA to implement a series of actions, several of which are now in place.

WOLF: Is it the technology that's failing or is it the screeners themselves not following proper protocol? If TSA's screening equipment is failing, and not doing the job, that's a larger systemic issue that TSA needs to address.

MARSH: Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Coming up, North Korea racing to build up its nuclear-tipped arsenal and the U.S. defense may be unprepared for an attack. How vulnerable is the U.S. West Coast? That's next.



BLITZER: There are new concerns tonight that America's defenses are not prepared for an attack by North Korea. A new report says U.S. missile interceptors have serious flaws potentially putting the West Coast of the United States at risk, if, if Kim Jong-Un launches his nuclear tip arsenal.

CNN's Brian Todd has been digging into this story.

Brian, what are you finding out.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, experts -- say the way these missile interceptors work is like trying to knock down a bullet with another bullet. The interceptors have to work flawlessly and tonight a watchdog agency says they may not, and the West Coast as a result could be vulnerable. The West Coast of the U.S. could be vulnerable just as Kim Jong-Un develops the ability to strike.


TODD (voice-over): He's test firing, recalibrating and threatening to attack. As Kim Jong-Un races to perfect his ballistic missile capabilities, there are serious questions tonight about whether the U.S. can defend against that threat.

The anti-missile systems that would shoot down North Korean missiles may not work. There are wiring problems with American interceptors according to a new report from the government watchdog GAO. Those are ground-launch systems based in California and Alaska. GAO says the wiring and soldering problems it found on the interceptors could cause corrosion later, quote, "leaving the war fighter with an interceptor fleet that may not work as intended."

[17:50:03] LAURA GREGO, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: What it really says is that you can't count on the kill vehicle. If you've used, for example, the kind of solder or wiring that doesn't age well, and used that in every single interceptor, you don't know that one will fail at any given time but you know you have a weakness in every single interceptor, so you really can't count on the reliability.

TODD: The U.S. Missile Defense Agency which fields those interceptors tells CNN its inspections, quote, "showed no indication of corrosion, no reliability risk." But Boeing, the manufacturer, tells us it's working on upgrading the interceptors. This comes as the U.S. and South Korea according to South Korea's national news agency are ramping up their defenses against the North Korean submarine threat. An Aegis destroyer, a PA Poseidon plane and submarines are taking part in large scale joint exercises in the waters off South Korea.

Recently North Korea bragged it successfully test fired a ballistic missile from a submarine. U.S. officials say that claim is false. That Kim's regime doesn't have that capability. But experts say they're working furiously to develop it. But once they get it, it'll be dangerous.

RICHARD FISHER, INTERNATIONAL ASSESSMENT AND STRATEGY CENTER: Having a submarine means it is much harder to detect the new North Korean nuclear armed ballistic missile. From the Sea of Japan, they can directly threaten Guam with a nuclear strike. In the future when they're operational, if they manage to get into the Sea of Okhotsk, they can threaten Alaska.


TODD: Adding to this threat, North Korea recently said it's made nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles. Analysts say Kim Jong-Un's regime has flight tested missiles capable of hitting South Korea and Japan but it's not flight tested missiles that can reach the U.S. yet, Wolf, but this is the point they keep working to develop this capability and analysts say they're working hard enough, they're going to get there. That's what's scary.

BLITZER: They also say he could hide various ways to launch a sea- borne missile because that would be potentially very dangerous.

TODD: Very dangerous, Wolf. We're told that the regime could not only fire these missiles from submarines maybe within four or five years, but they could also possibly hide missiles on merchant ships, fire them from those missiles, and with those ships they can get pretty close to American shores and American military bases. But all sorts of dangerous possibilities here and again the North Koreans never stopped working toward this capability. That's what's kind of scary about all of this.

BLITZER: Just obviously very scary stuff indeed.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Thanks, Brian. Thanks very much.

Thirty-five years ago today Ted Turner and CNN changed the world with a launch of a 24-hour cable news network. Tonight I'm hosting a special report looking back at many of the breaking stories we've covered since day one including the first major story I covered right here at CNN, the first Gulf War.

Take a look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to Bernard Shaw in Baghdad.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is -- out of my mouth came the words, something is happening outside. You're damned right something is happening, war is breaking out all around you. The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated. We're seeing bright flashes going off all over the sky.

The walls were shaking, the windows were vibrating, the concussions were blowing us against the wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we've now been on the air 20 minutes.

PETER ARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now the sirens are sounding for the first time. The Iraqis have informed us --

And the line goes dead.

And just cut the line.

Everybody is stunned and it's totally silent and you can feel the tension in that room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And John Holliman said it's the battery. The battery is dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And of course our biggest fright was that the bomb had hit the hotel where they were.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The line's dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a hush in the control room.

SHAW: And we're running around trying to find the batteries. We find it, Holliman does a work-around. JOHN HOLLIMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Atlanta.

SHAW: And we come back on the air.

HOLLIMAN: Atlanta, this is Holliman, I don't know if you're able to hear me now or not but I'm going to continue to talk to you as long as I can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there's a collective sigh, and you see shoulders drop down as the tension leaves people's bodies.

BLITZER: The whole world was watching CNN. We were the only ones who had reporters in Baghdad.


BLITZER: It was really an amazing night that first night of the Iraq war operation, Desert Storm. I was CNN's Pentagon correspondent at the time and I remember vividly what was going on.

Check out our special later tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern, "BREAKING NEWS, 35 YEARS OF CNN." I think all of you news junkies out there will want to watch.

Coming up, a new terror tactic from ISIS, its victims saw it coming today but they couldn't stop it.

Also a Muslim woman here in the United States denied a job because she wears a head scarf. Her case went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. You're going to find out what the United States Supreme Court justices have to say about that.



BLITZER: Happening now, arming ISIS. Terrorist forces now said to have more than 2,000 U.S. Humvees in their hands, abandoned by fleeing Iraqi troops. Are they now being used to launch deadly terror attacks?