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U.S. Providing Air Cover to Syrian Rebels; Kerry Lobbies Allies Worried about Iran Deal; Plan Aims to Cut Pollution from Coal-Burning Plants; Volunteers Join Search for Possible MH-370 Debris; Investigators Prepare to Examine Found Debris; Feds Warn of Terror Threat Amid Drone-Airliner Close Calls. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 3, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:08] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over now to Brianna Keilar. She's in for Wolf Blitzer next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, stalemate. CNN learns a classified intelligence assessment finds ISIS is as strong as ever, suggesting there's been little progress against the terror group, even as the president authorizes new airstrikes that may draw the U.S. deeper into a very bloody conflict.

Search expands. As investigators try to trace part of a plane wing to Flight MH-370, searchers are looking for other aircraft debris that may have washed ashore. We'll take you aboard one of the search boats.

And airliners at risk. After close calls in the air, homeland security warns terrorists could use drones to attack commercial aircraft. Could flights be targeted?

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A classified intelligence assessment offers a grim conclusion about the war with ISIS, suggesting the terror group may be as strong as it was a year ago, despite thousands of airstrikes. That comes as the United States may soon be drawn deeper into the bloody war in Syria, where rebel factions and terror groups, including ISIS, are fighting one another, as well as the Assad regime.

President Obama has approved the use of American air support for U.S.- backed Syrian rebels. Those rebels have already come under attack, and U.S. aircraft have already responded. Are American personnel facing a greater risk? I'll be speaking with Congressman Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee; and our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by with full coverage of all of the day's top stories.

We begin with Syria and CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, tell us what you're learning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the Pentagon now says it believes that the first of the U.S.-trained and equipped Syrian rebels have been killed in that al Qaeda-backed attack in northern Syria. The U.S. is going to great lengths to say those rebels. The U.S. has their back, but they have a very big target on that back.


STARR (voice-over): Smoke rising from a U.S. airstrike in northern Syria, launched to protect American-trained rebels under attack from an al-Qaeda-linked group. The first strike since President Obama approved air cover to protect rebels under attack from any group: Al Qaeda, the Assad regime or ISIS, a hint of the expanded mission in the works for days.

ASH CARTER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think we have an obligation to support those fighters when they go in there.

STARR: But what if the Assad regime attacks the U.S.-backed rebels?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have cautioned Syria in the past not to engage U.S. aircraft, and the Syrian regime would similarly be advised not to interfere with the Syrian forces.

STARR: The strike here in northern Syria is the area in U.S. crosshairs. Airstrikes are being used to shut down the last major border crossing into Syria near Aleppo, to keep fighters and weapons from getting to Raqqah, the ISIS stronghold.

GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They are seeing more and more difficulties of getting their fighters into northern Syria.

STARR: Despite pure fighters, a classified intelligence assessment bleakly concludes ISIS is as strong as it was a year ago when airstrikes began, but is no longer making huge advances on the ground.

The number of fighters, down slightly, to 20,000 to 30,000. The Pentagon says that is progress.

But in Iraq, even as the U.S. struck a facility making vehicle-borne bombs, the Defense Intelligence Agency has its own grim assessment, one official saying, quote, "The situation in Iraq between Iraqi security forces and ISIL is in stalemate."

After nearly 6,000 airstrikes and a year of bombing in Syria and Iraq, fundamental questions of whether the strategy will ever be successful.


STARR: And, you know, the Pentagon has warned for the last year that airstrikes alone would not defeat ISIS, but the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency now also saying the question has to be asked about whether Iraq can even come back as a single nation, or it will fracture into sectarian violence -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks. The U.S. and Turkey are now cooperating closely when it comes to the

war in Syria. Let's get a closer look from CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, Turkey has always been key to the U.S.-led coalition's fight against ISIS. One, it's NATO ally. Two, this long border here with Syria, but also this, the Incirlik air base, very close to the Syrian border here. The U.S. has long wanted to fly airstrikes out here, much closer than other bases down here in the Middle East or aircraft carriers, for instance, in the Persian Gulf.

And this is something that the administration has now announced it will be doing: flying airstrikes in support of moderate Syrian rebels on the ground. This includes both the U.S.-trained rebels there, a very small group to date, only 60 or so, as well as the so-called 30th Division upon its Syria rebels.

And we saw the importance of that air campaign when, at the end of last week, those troops were attacked in the town of Azas here. But getting it not from ISIS this time but from the Nusra Front, the al- Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front. They're showing the challenges that those moderate Syrians or rebels are facing from more than one direction.

This is happening as Turkey, the U.S., the coalition partners are now expanding their role here along the border. They're building what they're calling a safe zone here along the border, the idea to make this an ISIS-free zone, and cooperation between the U.S.-led air campaign, Turkish forces on the ground, as well as those modern Syrian rebels and Kurdish forces, but that attack at the end of last week, not just from ISIS, keep in mind; but also from the Nusra Front, showing the many challenges they will face as they open up here, Brianna, a new front in this war against ISIS.

KEILAR: Jim Sciutto, thank you.

Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Middle East. He's trying to sell the Iran nuclear deal to Gulf Arab allies, but back home an epic battle is under way between supporters and opponents of the deal.

Let's turn now to CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Are you seeing, Elise, the secretary make any progress here?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, Secretary Kerry did get a cautious, but key endorsement of that deal from Mideast allies. He was in Qatar today, meeting with leaders of Persian Gulf states, and he seemed to be pretty persuasive in assuring these important allies that the U.S. would prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, even if it violated this nuclear deal.

Now, diplomats tell me there was little to be gained from criticizing the agreement. It seems like it could be a done deal. So their main concern really is that Iran would use the windfall of billions of dollars expected from the lifting of sanctions in oil revenues to create more chaos in the region. So they've been focused on securing concrete American security

guarantees if Iran were to expand its support for terrorism in the region, and if you remember that Camp David summit with President Obama, the president has promised help with missile defense, more military aid, increased intelligence sharing, and today the Qatari foreign minister says Gulf states now confident the deal will make the region safer, more stable. So a badly needed diplomatic victory for Kerry and the U.S., Brianna

KEILAR: What about the domestic fight that we're seeing here over the Tehran deal, Elise. You have both sides that are just going all out.

LABOTT: Well, that's right. Anti-deal, pro-Israel advocacy groups flooding congressional offices with calls, e-mails. They're employing campaign-style tactics, spending millions of dollars on TV ads, polls. They're going to be taking the case to lawmakers on their home turf during the summer recess. And so the White House has really employed this all-hands-on-deck approach to combat them. Everything from classified briefings with Secretary Kerry, breakfast with Vice President Joe Biden, focused now on undecided Democrats to make sure that President Obama's veto would stand against Republican opposition, which is why President Obama himself has been having one-on-one meetings with key Democrats that are on the fence to watch.

I think one key senator to watch is New York Senator Chuck Schumer, on tap to be the next Senate majority leader. His support could win over reluctant Democrats, but all he'll say right now is he is studying the deal.

KEILAR: He certainly is. Elise Labott, thank you so much.

A key national security voice in Washington has just come from studying the deal to say he is favor of the Iran deal. And he's joining me now. He's the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Thanks so much for being with us.

You're a key voice, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. We've had you on before, and you said that you were sort of waiting and seeing and wanted to see where this ended up. What have you learned that now has you saying let's do this?"

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: It took several weeks, really months to study the proposed agreement and the final agreement, to meet with intelligence officials, to get a better sense of what we know about Iran's program in the past, how likely we are to catch them cheating if they cheat in the future, what the alternatives are, what does that look like.

And there, Brianna, we're all looking through the glass darkly. It's difficult to see exactly what happens if Congress rejects the deal.

But I came to the ultimate conclusion that the deal basically creates a road block for Iran getting the bomb, certainly for the next 15 or more years. That was a very significant achievement. And when I weigh that against the murky future without the deal, the deal makes sense.

[17:10:04] KEILAR: You still have concerns, and you've talked about this. You support the deal, but you say there are elements that are, quote, "deeply concerning."

You cite the lack of robust access to the sites of Iran's past military work on nuclear weapons, meaning how far have they come? How close would they be to break out on a nuclear weapon?

And then the permissible scope of Iran's enrichment program after only 15 years, because there is this expiration on some of this really serious access to their sites. You say that the administration should work with Congress. Is that realistic, considering the spike we are seeing?

SCHIFF: It is realistic. It probably won't happen, frankly until there's a vote on the deal, but there are ways that the Congress and the administration can strengthen that going forward. By making sure that Iran knows there simply will be repercussions if they're caught in any kind of cheating.

I think sure Iran knows that they will never be permitted to have highly enriched uranium, not today, not 15 years from now, not 50 years from now. And if they go that path, we're going to stop them with force and by working with our allies, with Israel and our gulf allies, to contain any use of Iran's newfound wealth for destructive activities in the region.

KEILAR: What repercussions could you realistically expect, should Iran cheat on this deal, considering you wouldn't expect to get at the U.N. level support from Russia or from China?

SCHIFF: Well, this is why I think the administration really got a coup in the agreement. And that is the United States, without any opportunity for Russian veto and Chinese veto, can snap back the sanctions on its own in full or in part. So we got that. It was something Iran bitterly fought. But that means that, if we conclude alone Iran is cheating, we have the power to re-impose those sanctions.

Now, we still need to get the others on board, but I think, frankly, if we can make the case about Iran cheating, we have a very good chance of a strong and robust, even enhanced sanctions regime.

And I might add this, too. You have to compare it to the alternative. Congress rejects this deal. The sanctions almost certainly erode, if not collapse. There's no way we can get Russia and China and India and others on board if we reject this deal.

KEILAR: There are a lot of people who are looking at this deal domestically and are not on board with this. Opposition, in fact, has doubled since June, according to an NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll.

What do you say to those people who are looking at this, saying this isn't a good idea? SCHIFF: Well, I say, look, the primary objective here is to keep Iran

from getting the bomb. This agreement, I think, as a practical matter, makes that near impossible for Iran.

If we don't go forward with a deal, we're looking at a very uncertain future, where Iran goes back to enriching. It will spin up a new generation of centrifuges that are much faster, and we won't have eyes on their nuclear program. That's the alternative.

Now, there are tradeoffs. Iran is going to have a lot more money, and I'm not just concerned about this frozen fund, but rather the fact that our economy will grow, and annually, there will be increased revenues. That means they can use those resources for bad stuff in the region. And we have to make it clear that we'll meet those actions with an equal and opposite reaction. And that's how we can help strengthen this deal.

KEILAR: I want to talk to you, Congressman, about Syria now, now that we have the president signing off on air support for Syrian rebels if they do come under attack. Do you consider this a new phase in this war?

SCHIFF: Well, I think the Turkish change is really the new phase. The administration's commitment that you mentioned that we will protect, these Defense Department trained forces, that's the right decision. As a practical matter it's the only decision.

And I think Bashar al Assad would be crazy to try to interfere with that. He doesn't need a new -- a very powerful adversary at this stage in the game. So I think it's the right call.

But probably the pivotal event in the last couple weeks is the decision by Turkey to get more fully into the fight, to close down that border with Syria, and to go across that border with its aircraft and strike ISIS targets.

KEILAR: The U.S. had committed to striking ISIS from the air, has been doing so in Iraq for some time, but now there is this move to Syria. We did not see that before. And the administration had stopped short of doing that because of risk.

You see this effort expanding. And it seems like it's happening without some sort of comprehensive explanation of where it's going. What would you tell the American people about that?

SCHIFF: Well, this is a very tough problem to discuss as well as to fix, because you have parties that are fighting with us, and fighting against us all at the same time.

So you have the Turks, that are now more engaged in the fight against ISIS, which is good; but they're now also engaged in a fight with the Kurds, which are our allies, and that's very troublesome.

You have Iran, which is causing all kinds of sectarian problems in Iraq.

KEILAR: But in terms of the U.S. plan to deal with this, of what the end game looks like, or what the objective is.

[17:15:05] SCHIFF: Well, I think the end game has to be, ultimately, a political transition that phases Bashar Assad out. And the good news on that front is there are now major cracks in the allied regime. Support for Assad, I think, is declining. I think even the Russians are beginning to acknowledge that Assad will never control all Syria again.

Iran hasn't gotten to that point yet, but it's inevitable. There's simply no way Assad is going to rule all Syria again.

KEILAR: You say it would be smart of him to not engage with these U.S. jets that will be over Syria, but what if something happens? What if a U.S. plane is shot down? How does the U.S. respond?

SCHIFF: Well, this is the risk, and we run that risk right now, because we're doing sorties over Syria as we speak. So our pilots are at risk, and of course, the nightmare of all nightmares for us is the terrible tragedy that happened to the Jordanian pilot. And there's a profound risk of escalation. Because you can imagine what our reaction would be if that happened to one of our pilots. So there are lots of dangers here.

At the same time, I don't think that Assad is going to make the mistake of interfering with our support for those rebels who are fighting ISIS. It would only mean the end of his regime.

KEILAR: All right. Many more questions for you ahead, so stick with me. We will be back with more from the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in just a moment. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:21:08] KEILAR: Congressman Adam Schiff of California is with us. His state is now battling massive wildfires.

First, though, let's talk about what President Obama said today, citing some of those fires and other natural disasters, unveiling a major new plan to fight climate change. It will mean new rules for some power plants.

CNN senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has the details -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, President Obama is touting his climate change plan as a major step in the fight against global warming. Critics say it is nothing more than a clean power grab.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Pointing to wildfires raging out of control, droughts crippling the American west and the threat of severe thunderstorms, President Obama offered his remedy to the planet's weather worries. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we don't get it

right, we may not be able to reverse. I believe there is such a thing as being too late.

ACOSTA: The president's proposal dramatically curb carbon emissions from the nation's coal-burning power plants by nearly one-third by the year 2030. The White House says the climate change data is undeniable, noting 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have come this century.

OBAMA: I don't want millions of people's lives disrupted and this world more dangerous because we didn't do something about it. That would be shameful of us.

ACOSTA: It's a legacy-defining issue Mr. Obama has chased since he was a candidate seven years ago.

OBAMA: This is the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.

ACOSTA: But Republicans charge the plan to unilaterally order these massive changes through the EPA instead of working with Congress, will kill jobs and drive up energy costs.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm not going to sit by while the White House takes aim at the lifeblood of our state's economy.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For the first time they've extended this to require states in a very coercive way.

ACOSTA: Democrats sense a potent issue, labeling GOP candidates as climate change deniers.

SCOTT WALKER (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you look even at the last 15 to 20 years, I think most scientists in regards what they believe is the larger question would say that there hasn't been a noticeable change in recent times.

ACOSTA: Last year Donald Trump tweeted, "This very expensive global warming bull has got to stop."

With that kind of opposition, the White House is bracing for legal challenges that could last years.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have no doubt that special interests and the politicians who are in their pockets will fight tooth and nail against this specific rule.


ACOSTA: And the president will continue this push on climate change right through the end of the year.

Later this summer he'll become the first U.S. president to visit the Alaskan Arctic. Then Mr. Obama will continue talking about this issue with Pope Francis and China's president in the fall. All of that will culminate with a major international summit on climate change in Paris in December. It's going to be a very big issue at this White House for the next several months, Brianna.

KEILAR: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks so much.

We're back now with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California.

So Congressman, you represent this state. I know you're a little -- you're in southern California, but in northern California, the state is battling these dangerous wildfires.

And with the president's plan today, we're hearing criticism. We're hearing some states who say they're not going to go along with this. You have critics who are saying they're going to tie this up in court. Is this going to work, this plan?

SCHIFF: It's got to work. The president has to make this fight. My state is burning, and I think many people in the capital aren't going to be willing to do anything about climate change, under literally the capital is under water. We just can't wait. We have record droughts in the west. We have the worst start to the fire season in many, many years. And this problem is not going to get better. It's not going to go away, and we can't afford to wait too long.

KEILAR: Would you prefer that Congress would have a say in this? This is him taking executive action.

SCHIFF: Absolutely. And Congress ought to have a say; we ought to be doing the job. The reality is we're not. We're only good at essentially the status quo. We are at -- too dysfunctional a body. And that's a terrible shame, but the problems of the world go on.

And so the president has to use what tools he can within the Constitution to do something about this global problem. The United States has got to play a leadership role.

So I applaud what he's trying to do. I hope he's successful. I'd like to see the Congress meet him in a constructive way to try to work together to deal with this challenge.

KEILAR: Isn't part of it sometimes, when it comes to energy, Democrats as well as Republicans, who take issue with some of these proposals?

SCHIFF: It can be a bipartisan and parochial problem. We've had Democrats sometimes in the gulf region or others in and around motor city who have opposed, for example, CAFE standards requiring cars to be more fuel-efficient.

So yes, there are problems even within the Democratic Caucus. We're going to have to overcome those to make progress on this. We don't want to wait until we reach a tipping point.

KEILAR: Yes. It's tough. I covered the cap and trade vote that never even made it through both houses of Congress when they were both Democratic. So it's certainly...

SCHIFF: I remember it well.

KEILAR: It is quite a challenge. Congressman Schiff, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Coming up, we're getting new reports of debris sightings on a remote island off of Africa as volunteers join the search for parts of the missing Malaysian airliner. We have CNN live there on Reunion Island.

And then later, a scary new warning about the possibility of terrorist -- terrorist attacks using small unmanned drones.


KEILAR: We are following reports of more debris washing ashore on a remote island off of Africa.

[17:31:30] Experts preparing to examine what appears to be part of a wing flap that washed ashore last week and was shipped to France over the weekend. This appears to be from the same kind of plane as the Malaysian airliner that disappeared nearly a year and a half ago.

The search is expanding. You have islanders that are taking their boats offshore. They are looking for floating debris. It's really all hands on deck. And that's where you find CNN's Erin McLaughlin. She wrote a law with some volunteer searchers. Tell us what you found.


That's right. People across the island are combing the beaches, looking for clues, volunteering their time, but so far they found a bunch of trash.

For example, yesterday some eight police officers turned up to a nearby beach to collect what later turned out to be a twisted piece of a ladder that the Australians are saying has nothing to do with MH- 370.

Nevertheless, people are not deterred. They are searching by land, and they're searching by sea. I was out earlier today with a search- and-rescue volunteer team. They were looking -- combing the waters despite the fact that they didn't have the kind of technology necessary to find debris. They were dedicated to this effort.

The team's captain telling me that the people on this close-knit family-oriented island feel a connection to MH-370, not just because of the wing flap that has been found, because the people here are shocked and appalled at the idea of a disappearing plane, the idea of not knowing what happened to loved ones.

So they're going to continue this effort. They're going to remain vigilant in the days and weeks to come -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Erin McLaughlin, thanks so much. A live report there for us from Reunion Island.

And while the missing airliner may have crashed thousands of miles from the African coast, experts who study ocean currents are encouraging searchers like the ones near Reunion Island to keep looking. CNN's Brian Todd has more details -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, they're encouraged to keep looking, not only here on Reunion Island, but also near the Seychelles islands up here, off the coast of Mauritius, Madagascar, possibly even on the coast, the east coast of South Africa.

Tonight, Oceanographers are telling us if this piece of wing flap is from MH-370, there could be more where that came from, thanks to a mysterious and unpredictable current in the Indian Ocean.


TODD (voice-over): On Reunion Island, people comb the shorelines looking for any clues which could be as tantalizing as this: what experts believe is probably a piece of the missing plane's wing.

Tonight, veteran oceanographers tell CNN this could be the new front line of the search for MH-370, which is why search teams are now looking off not only Reunion Island, but near Madagascar, the Seychelles Islands, Mauritius, Mozambique and off the east coast of South Africa. The reason: a powerful stream of currents circulating in the Indian Ocean, called a gyre.

VAN GURLEY, FORMER U.S. NAVY OCEANOGRAPHER: It is a permanent circulation pattern in the Indian Ocean that runs counter-clockwise. It starts off of the coast of Australia, the western Australian current, and moves north, and then picks up the southern equatorial current, moving east to west across the entire Indian Ocean Basin before it turns south and then returns.

TODD: Former U.S. Navy oceanographer Van Gurley says other parts of MH-370 that could not found, seats or other objects with foam inserts or closed air pockets, characteristics which would cause something to float. Experts say that may be why this piece made it to Reunion Island.

But Gurley says if the missing plane is in the area of Australia, where scientists think it went down, objects could also be found in the other direction, on the other side of Australia.

GURLEY: Looking at the overall current patterns, at the end of 18 to 24 months, the red area, some debris could end up over here where we're talking now, but others could end up out here.

TODD: Oceanographers say based on the drift analysis in play right now, search teams should maintain their search for MH-370 in the area off Perth, Australia, they've been focusing on. But they warn of a possibility the families of those missing should prepare for.

DAVID GALLO, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION: It is possible this is the only thing they'll ever find or recognize from MH-370. That's just the way the ocean behaves, with the difference in currents, and winds and storms and whatnot. So this could well be the only piece that survived.


TODD: Experts point to another mysterious case in that same region, the sinking of the Australian worship, the HMAS Sydney during World War II. And it went down off of Freemantle, Australia, right where that is here. Right up there, right of the coast of -- right near where Perth is, not far from the search area that is engaged right now.

Now despite a massive search by the Royal Australian Navy, there was no confirmed discovery from anything from that vessels in the months and years after its disappearance. No bodies, nothing. Search teams didn't find this wreck until 2008. And experts say a big reason for that is because the ocean currents are so inconsistent in that area -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Wow, Brian. I wonder if you've got even more pieces that you find from MH-370, assuming this flaperon is from the plane. Do you necessarily get more answers?

TODD: You really don't necessarily get more answers, even if more pieces are found. Oceanographers say if this flaperon is from MH-370, unless the main wreckage from that plane is discovered, neither this flaperon or any other pieces of it might be found until that so we can solve the main mystery of what happened to that plane. I've got to find the main fuselage of that plane.

KEILAR: All right. Brian Todd, thanks so much.

With us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, we have the former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, also a CNN aviation analyst with us, Peter Goelz. We have CNN former FAA safety inspector and CNN safety analyst, David Soucie. And we have David Gallo. He's the director of special projects for the Woods Hole Oceanographic institution. Also a CNN contributor. They have a wealth of knowledge between them, and we are going to pepper them with questions about MH-370 and these findings, after a quick break.


[17:42:18] KEILAR: We are following new developments in the mystery of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. The search for possible debris is expanding now off East Africa, and as volunteers look for any pieces from the missing jet, experts from around the world are preparing to examine what may be a wing flap that washed up on Reunion Island last week and has been shipped now to France.

We're back now with our aviation experts. We have David Soucie, David Gallo and Peter Goelz with us.

Peter, to you first. There are reports that there are people on the island, and we just heard some of them field a responsibility to participate, but certainly, I imagine this would be some concern to you if you have a lot of people who maybe aren't part of as organized search who are perhaps picking up pieces of evidence. What do you think?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think if people feel a need to go out and do that, that's OK. Because it's a -- it would be very rare if we were to find another piece on Reunion sometime in the next 24, 48 or 72 hours.

But if people want to take a look, it's worth taking a look just to see if lightning strikes twice. We were extraordinarily lucky to find this piece.

KEILAR: And that would be rare, all this time, a year and a half, after. Right?

GOELZ: That's right.

KEILAR: OK. So David Gallo, you have the Malaysian transport minister, and he's saying that you've got this location the debris was found in, and it's consistent with drift analysis. Is that your view of this?

GALLO: Sure, generally that's the -- well, the proof is in the pudding. That's where the piece ended up. I mean, if we -- and if can be, in terms of distance and time, you can say that it fits well with the present-day underwater search areas. So yes, I would agree with that.

KEILAR: You saw in our last report just how unpredictable these currents are in this region. Would you expect that a lot of pieces from MH-370, that they could be all over the ocean there? Hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles apart?

GALLO: Yes, Brianna, I think I agree with what Peter said earlier. I mean, we're lucky that this happened, that we pulled out this one piece so many days -- 500-plus days later. But they're out there someplace. And the question is where.

The ocean does -- even though the currents are pretty consistent, counter clockwise, the ocean does disperse things in a funny sort of way. We hope we get lucky again. David, I wonder what the process is right now. Certainly if you were on the ground in Reunion Island or you're in France, and you're inspecting; or you're working with inspectors, what would you be doing right now?

SOUCIE: Well, in Toulouse right now, it's just, it takes us a day just to keep track of who's coming in and get the background checks done and everything that needs to be done administratably, because we're talking about forensic investigation now. It's not a casual observation about this or that.

[17:45:04] Does it belong to a 777? Now they're looking at a lot more in depth. They're looking at different things about how much twist there is. So they're taking measurements. Very critical measurements of whether the piece itself has been deformed in whatever direction it had, trying to determine how it was removed from the aircraft, if it was before the accident, in the air, or if it was after the accident once it was in the water. A lot of detailed work going on right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Are you surprised that it was this piece, assuming -- all of this with the caveat that this is from 370, but we do believe it's from a 777, are you surprised that this would be the piece that might wash up somewhere?

SOUCIE: Well, I would expect a piece like this to wash up somewhere if the aircraft had exceeded its normal operating speed. If it reaches what we call a trans-sonic range, which is -- creates a lot of flutter in the flight controls, it's where the aircraft is almost at MACH 1, and the wind over the air -- over the wings has exceeded MACH 1, creating huge shockwaves, that stopped the air movement over the flight control surfaces, and then they start fluttering and fall off as the airplane starts to disintegrate those speeds. That's where I think, if it was that that happened, I would expect to see this kind of debris.

KEILAR: OK. And then what does that tell us, if this is something that could be, Peter, ripped off at a higher air speed? Then does that tell us -- it seems like perhaps other parts of the plane could be very far away from this, right?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, it gives you a little bit of a hint about what happened. I think David is right. You look at this piece. There doesn't appear to be a lot of compression damage to it, meaning that it was attached to the main part of the aircraft when it hit the water. I agree with him. I think it looks like it came off -- torn off in flight, but, you know, the investigators on Wednesday, the first thing they're going to do is confirm that it's from the aircraft.

And that should not be a painstaking job. That should be done fairly quickly before the end of the day. Then they're going to work with the electron microscopes. They're going to tell us how this piece separated from the aircraft.

KEILAR: With electron microscopes. We'll be waiting when that does begin on Wednesday.

Peter Goelz, thank you so much. David Soucie and David Gallo, thanks for your expertise, gentlemen. We really appreciate it.

And coming up, really this is too close for comfort.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A mile back there was a drone flying just under the southwest side of the airport here.


KEILAR: Just as we're seeing a new rash of close calls between airliners and drones, Homeland Security officials warn police to be on the lookout for terror attacks using drones.

And broiling temperatures, steep terrains, dozens of out-of-control wildfires. Stand by for the latest from California's fire lines.


[17:52:14] KEILAR: The Department of Homeland Security just issued a new warning about the possibility of attacks by terrorists using small, unmanned drones. This comes as federal aviation officials confirmed a third close call involving drones and airliners heading into New York City's JFK airport.

I want to bring in CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown for the latest on this.

This is -- listening to this, Pamela, these are very -- it's very scary how close these calls were.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Very alarming, Brianna. In the wake of these recent drone incidents the Department of Homeland Security as you mentioned recently sent out a warning to law enforcement across the country about risks associated with drones and their potential to be exploited as a terrorist weapon.


BROWN (voice-over): The warning about drones detailed in a Department of Homeland Security bulletin to police comes on the heels of a series of close calls between unmanned aircraft and passenger planes. Overnight, the pilot of a Shuttle America flight reported spotting a drone near the plane's wing just as it was landing at New York's JFK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flight 5911, continue straight ahead on Bravo and monitor ground to the left.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bravo, that drone is on the edge of the runway.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That done is on the edge of the runway.

BROWN: Sunday's incident was the third in three days over New York skies. Drones coming dangerously close to planes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, about a mile back there was a drone flying just under the southwest side of this abandoned airport here.

BROWN: On Friday the crew of Delta 407, with more than 150 on board, told air traffic control it spotted a drone as it was over an old air field, where drones are not allowed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What altitude would you say that was?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say about 100 feet below me, just off the right wing.

BROWN: That same day a JetBlue flight landing at JFK was surprised by a drone passing just below its nose. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was one of those four-bladed drones. Color or

direction, I'm not sure, man. It just popped right underneath our nose.

BROWN: Today New York Senator Chuck Schumer said he's had enough and wants the Federal Aviation Administration to require all drones to carry software that keeps them out of the way of planes.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: You can build into the software of a drone at nominal cost a program that doesn't let them fly in certain places. Within two miles of any airport. Over the empire state building or the Pentagon. It's cheap, it doesn't interfere with hobbyists who -- and others who want drones or need drones. And it will help solve the problem.


BROWN: All of these planes landed without incident. But DHS is concerned these close calls could turn into something much more concerning in the future -- Brianna.

KEILAR: With good reason. Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

[17:55:01] And coming up, wildfires are raging out of control in California. Thousands of people have fled their homes. We'll take you live to the fire zone.

And Trump in front. The billionaire leads the Republican pack, but is he ready for a fight at the first GOP debate?


KEILAR: Fire emergency. Thousands of people are forced to three as massive wildfires burn out of control in California, charring hundreds of square miles. Can more than 9,000 firefighters gain the upper hand amid brutal conditions? We're live in the disaster zone.

Federal support. FBI and ATF agents are embedding with Baltimore Police as the city reels from a deadly spike in crime following the riots after the death of Freddie Gray. Can this drastic move end the murder epidemic that's swarming the city.