Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham; Terrorism Suspected in Russian Plane Crash. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired November 4, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: ISIS bomb blamed. U.S. officials now believe the crash of a Russian airliner was an act of terrorism with an explosive device likely planted on board. Stand by for more of CNN's exclusive reporting.

Deadly turning point. If ISIS is responsible for bringing down an aircraft, how will the U.S., Russia and other nations respond? And who will the terrorists target next?

Inside job? How could a bomb possibly get through screening and get on board the Russian jet? Tonight, planes are grounded at an Egyptian airport as investigators check security and look for clues.

U.S. warship stalked. CNN has learned a Chinese attack sub closely tracked an American super carrier with several thousands of service members on board. Was it a new provocation in a Cold War- style showdown?

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: Let's get right to the breaking news tonight.

New U.S. intelligence suggests a Russian airliner most likely was ripped apart by a bomb that was planed on board by ISIS or an affiliate of that terror group. This hour, a U.S. official is telling CNN the evidence points to someone at the airport being involved.

And, tonight, Britain and Ireland have grounded flights from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, the airport where the Russian flight took off. British officials are publicly acknowledging their concern that a bomb brought down Flight 9268, killing all 224 people on board.

ISIS has repeatedly claimed responsibility for the crash. And this new information suggests the group has accomplished a huge advance in its capability to commit mass murder and terrorize the world.

Senator Lindsey Graham is here. He's a top member of the Armed Services Committee. He's also a Republican presidential candidate. Our correspondents and analysts, they are also standing by to

cover this breaking story.

Up first, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She broke the story today.

What are you learning now, Barbara, from your U.S. intelligence sources?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, in the latest development, our own Elise Labott has been told that there is a suspicion at least that someone at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, may have been involved in this effort.

What the U.S. is worried about now, and it is not absolute, Wolf, but a very strong sense is that a bomb was placed on board this aircraft, either brought on in the luggage or placed aboard the aircraft in some other fashion, that there was some failure of security at Sharm el-Sheikh.

A U.S. official telling me a short time ago -- and I quote -- "There is a definite feeling it was an explosive device planted in luggage or somewhere on the plane." The U.S. has been looking at this for the last several days. They are monitoring ISIS chatter for claims of responsibility.

The sense they have is that ISIS or an ISIS affiliate most likely behind it all, but they are also still open to looking at other scenarios, maybe it was not ISIS, maybe it was structural failure, but at least today, late in the day, no one in Washington is much talking about other scenarios than what we -- the facts we have, which is they are looking at the very real possibility this was a bomb and ISIS was behind it.

BLITZER: And they believe ISIS was behind it, not necessarily because ISIS claims responsibility, but they have other intelligence pointing in that direction.

STARR: You know, it's interesting. What they are telling us is they didn't know about this, of course, before it happened, but they were concerned about movement of the group into Sinai and over the last several weeks, months, a good deal of militant activity in Sinai.

That caused a lot of concern. And after the event, they began to gather additional intelligence that could point them in this direction. So they have intelligence before, intelligence after, and monitoring these claims by ISIS, not the public claims so much. Those have been discounted a little bit. But U.S. intelligence monitors the deep Web, the dark Web, and ISIS' own secure chat rooms, and it's apparently in this other part of ISIS' use of social media and online communications that they are seeing these claims.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

British government official are publicly acknowledging that a bomb likely brought down that Russian jetliner and they are taking action by grounding flights.

Let's bring in our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

Rene, what are you learning about this investigation?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you 26 airlines go in and out of this airport, and, tonight, several cancellations over concerns about airport security.


As officials zero in on this new leading theory of a bomb on board, experts are examining the victims' bodies for signs of trauma from an explosion or shrapnel.


MARSH (voice-over): A possible bomb on board Metrojet 9268 is now the leading theory for both U.S. intelligence and British officials tonight.

PATRICK MCLOUGHLIN, BRITISH TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: We cannot categorically say why the Russian jet crashed, but we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down as a result of an explosive device.

MARSH: All U.K. flights to and from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula have been halted. Focus has intensified on the security at Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, where the doomed Russian flight took off.

LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: ISIS has been operating successfully. They have done assassinations of the political leaders in the region. There's no reason to think they have not been able to essentially compromise the security of the airport.

ABEND: This could be an inside operation, somebody that is or some people that are familiar with how the baggage process works. And let's not just limit it to the cargo hold. Catering could be involved with this too.

MARSH: Today, Egyptian investigators searched wreckage for clues, including bomb residue. Despite reporting from both U.S. and British officials and another claim of responsibility from ISIS, so far, the Egyptians maintain it's found no evidence of terrorism.

ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is one way to nail the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt.

MARSH: So far, Russia has publicly maintained it's too early to draw any conclusions. Russian state media reported victims' bodies show no sign of trauma from an explosion.

JON ALTERMAN, MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think the Russians also don't want to show vulnerability to the Islamic State because they're fighting in Syria. And the sense that they may be drawing violence against Russians for what they're doing in Syria may not play very well in Russia.


MARSH: And, tonight, we have new data from the plane. It was transmitted from the plane and it is telling us more about the final minutes that this passenger plane was in the air.

So when the Metrojet took off, its autopilot was set at 32,000 feet. The plane climbed steadily, but it never made it to its desired altitude. It got to just over 30,000 feet and then it dives and it dives rapidly, plunging some 300 miles per hour towards earth.

It just solidifies and confirms what we already know, this was a breakup midair and this plane just dropped out of the sky very quickly, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, triggered presumably by that bomb that was smuggled on board. Rene, thanks very much.

Let's go live to Egypt right now, where the crash investigation is unfolding.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin is near the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh in Sinai right now.

Erin, the Egyptians, they are leading the investigation. A U.S. official tells CNN intel suggests someone at that airport not far away from where you are right now was directly involved. What are you picking up over there?


Well, right now, Egyptian officials remain very tight-lipped. No reaction so far from Egyptian officials or for that matter Russian officials to the latest U.S. intelligence assessment. We did speak earlier to the Egyptian foreign minister, who said simply it was too soon to draw conclusions as to what happened to the plane.

And he pointed to this ongoing investigation and the focus on that investigation right now very much on the so-called black boxes. According to Egypt's civil aviation authority, they have successfully downloaded all the data from the flight data recorder. They are analyzing that. In terms of the cockpit voice recorder, well, they say that that has been partially damaged. That, they say is going to take more time.

Analysis of those black boxes very much an international effort. Egypt is leading the investigation, Russia also taking part, but also Germany, France, as well as Ireland. And we have heard from a French official today that at the moment they weren't able to derive any sort of conclusions from the data, that it is still being analyzed.

Now, from the start, Egyptian officials have been downplaying the idea that terrorism could have taken the plane down. Egyptian President El-Sisi saying that ISIS' claim of responsibility was pure propaganda -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What is being done at the airport there in Sharm el- Sheikh where you are right now to increase security?

MCLAUGHLIN: Wolf, well, exact measures remain to be seen.

We were at the airport yesterday. We were also at the airport today, no visible signs of heightened security. And that's in line with what the Egyptian Interior Ministry was saying yesterday. They were saying that they were not increasing security.


They were saying that they were not interviewing employees at the airport because, at that point, they said that there was no indication that terrorism brought the plane down. The security situation at the airports throughout Egypt changing today. The Egyptian foreign minister saying that they are heightening the presence to reassure people, not, though, they say, in response to conclusions from the investigation.

BLITZER: Erin McLaughlin in Sharm el-Sheikh for us, Erin, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a Republican presidential candidate. He's also a prominent member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator Graham, thanks for joining us.

How should the U.S. respond to this attack, if in fact it was ISIS?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should come up with a plan to degrade and destroy ISIL, not just because of this attack, but because of what they are trying to do to the region and the world at large.

President Obama has got the right goal, to degrade and destroy ISIL. They want to purify their faith, destroy the Christian religion in the Middle East, throughout the world, destroy Israel, attack us because we're infidels. They need to be degraded and destroyed. You need a regional approach to do that.

BLITZER: Well, give me a specific step you think the president should take right away.

GRAHAM: I would be glad to. Sure.

What would I do? I would go to the Arabs in Turkey and say I want to use your armies. I would create a safe haven inside of Syria, a no-fly zone, so refugees wouldn't have to leave. They wouldn't have to be worried about getting raped or murdered. I would start training free Syrian forces, the ones that are

left. I would build a regional force of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey. I would integrate some of our forces in this regional army. I would go in on the ground and destroy ISIL and tell Assad he has to go.

BLITZER: What do you expect the Russian response to be? As you know, almost all of the 224 people on board were Russian.


I think they will hit ISIL a little bit harder. But they have gotten what they wanted. Russia is not going to change their policies. They have been hitting ISIL to kind of mask what they really want. They have achieved their goal of solidifying Assad, their proxy, Iran's puppet.

Their military bases are now secure. They will dictate the terms of a new Syria. They're not going to be deterred by this. They will go after ISIL a little bit harder. But Russia got what it wanted out of their intervention in Syria.

BLITZER: But they certainly didn't want this. They didn't want this Russian airliner to go down with all those people.

GRAHAM: No, they don't. No, they don't, but they are not going to let ISIL drive them out of Syria.

They're in the catbird's seat. They have got -- Assad is now in power. There are thousands of Russian soldiers on the ground, Iranian soldiers, Hezbollah militia to prop up Assad. They have got now effect control of Syria. They will absorb this attack. They will hit ISIL.

But Putin is not going to lose any sleep over this tonight. He's won in Syria. And he's very pleased with the outcome of being able to protect Assad, his puppet.

BLITZER: No, I was suggesting not the opposite. I was suggesting that Putin -- knowing Putin, knowing the Russians, in if fact this was ISIS...


GRAHAM: They might go harder. Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: They are going to intensify their attacks.

GRAHAM: Yes. You're right. They will, but they are never going to bend in their main goal of solidifying Assad's hold or somebody like him, dictating the terms of the future of Syria.

But you're dead right. They may be more aggressive than we would be. And if they want to go after ISIL, great. But they are a disruptive force in Syria. Russia and Iran working together to help Assad is good for ISIL. The great antagonist of ISIL is Iranian Shia Persians. And they're making this war go on longer by keeping Assad in power. This doesn't help us, even if they do attack ISIL.

BLITZER: It seems these terrorists, they are still obsessed with commercial airliners. Is this the most significant terrorist attack since 9/11?

GRAHAM: Yes. You know, I would say between this and the Paris attack, yes, in terms of loss of life, I think.

It shows ISIL, if it is them, Wolf, if it is them, they have achieved some capability. But their desire to kill is only limited by their capability. They would do more if they could.

BLITZER: Is ISIS coordinating now with al Qaeda?

GRAHAM: You know, I think so.

I think what you see is groups like in the Boko Haram and the Sinai terrorist organizations, they pledge allegiance to oil. We see this in Afghanistan. Everybody wants to be on the winning team and, quite frankly, ISIL is seen as the winning team. The Sinai terrorists are now hooked up with ISIL probably providing information. I think that's what is going on here.

BLITZER: Senator, stand by. We're getting some more information on the breaking news. I want to take a quick break.

Much more with Senator Lindsey Graham right after this.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news, U.S. intelligence now suggesting that ISIS or an ISIS affiliate planted a bomb on board a Russian jet that crashed in Egypt.

We're told it appears that someone at the airport was involved; 224 people were murdered.

Senator and Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, he is standing by with us.

Senator, we will be with you in a moment.

But I want to quickly get an update from Britain, where officials are publicly acknowledging the likelihood that the plane was bombed.

Our international correspondent Phil Black is joining us. He's just outside Number 10 Downing Street in London.


What are you picking up over there? What's the latest, Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, according to Downing Street, its team of experts that have been on the ground at Sharm el- Sheikh Airport today say that they believe the Egyptian authorities have stepped up the security there, but more work needs to be done.

So, for that reason, the British government has extended its suspension of all direct flights between Sharm el-Sheikh and the United Kingdom. That affects five different carriers. We're talking about multiple flights a day.

It means there are now a number, a large number of British tourists who for the moment are stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh. And the British government says it is going to do what it can in order to get some flights that it believes are secure happening. But it's probably going to take a few days at least.

This all started earlier in the day with a pretty extraordinary statement from the British government in which it said it believes that there was a possibility that this aircraft was brought down by an explosive device. Through the day, we have seen that language strengthen, to the point where they now say they believe there is a significant possibility that that is what happened, that they have seen new evidence, that that has strengthened their concerns.

And so that's what is happening. Those flights are suspended. The British government says that it understands the Egyptian government won't like this very much, but the Egyptian government, it says, has not seen intelligence that it has here.

That is likely to be discussed here in Downing Street tomorrow, when the Egyptian president comes here for what was a previously scheduled meeting with the British prime minister, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are they saying what specifically led the U.K. to halt these flights to Sharm el-Sheik?

BLACK: They are not revealing specifically what that information is, no.

They are saying new information is coming to light. They are talking about new information that has come to light recently, perhaps just even over the course of the evening. But they're not discussing the source or the nature of this information.

As I say, the Egyptian government isn't happy about these statements from the British government because it's quite extraordinary for Britain to go out ahead of the investigating country, Egyptian in this case, which has been so quick to dismiss terrorism throughout the time since the accident, but the British government making the point it has seen information, intelligence that the Egyptians have not. The question is to what degree that information will now be shared, Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Black in London for us, thank you.

We're back with Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a Republican presidential candidate.

Senator, it shows that these groups, these terror groups potentially, they continue to be fascinated with planes, commercial airliners.


BLITZER: Here is the question. Is U.S. security right now sufficient to prevent this from happening here?

GRAHAM: Well, if you saw a TSA report a couple of days ago, I'm very worried.

At the end of the day, we have got to be right every time. They just have to be right once. I'm sure security will be upgraded. But the best way to be secure is to go in on the ground and to destroy the threat.

You're not going to win this war from the air. You need a ground component. There are not enough left, in my view, Syrian Arabs and Kurds to do the job. You need a regional force. The strategy President Obama has charted will not work. It will never work. And the longer they are in power in Syria and Iraq, the more threat we are here at home.

And it's just a matter of time before they come here. I have been saying that for two years now. We got to get these guys in a box and nail it shut.

BLITZER: Should the TSA be making major changes at airports here in the United States?

GRAHAM: According to the reports that I have seen, the system is not working as efficiently as it should.

They are very dedicated people, but just look at the I.G. reports. The number of threats to the homeland are greater than any time since 9/11. We're cutting the budget of the FBI. The TSA's budget is subject to being cut through sequestration.

This is a perfect storm to be attacked, increased threats, lower capabilities, budget cuts that are insane in light of the threat. I want to thank the TSA for trying to defend our nation, but, yes, I think it needs to be dramatically improved in light of the recent inspections.

BLITZER: You want to clearly send some more U.S. troops, more boots to Syria, if you will.

GRAHAM: Yes. Yes, sir.

BLITZER: But if this was a bomb that was put on that Russian plane in retaliation for Russia's direct involvement in Syria from the air, on the ground, would you be comfortable as commander in chief taking the risk of something like that happening to a U.S. commercial airliner in retaliation for more boots on the ground in Syria against ISIS?

GRAHAM: They are not coming after us because we interfere with their plans. They are coming after us because they hate us. They are motivated by their religious views to destroy everybody

in their faith who disagrees, to destroy the Christian religion and attack infidels like us. On September the 10th, 2001, we did not one soldier, not an embassy, no money going into Afghanistan.

They are motivated by religion to destroy our way of life. It's not about retaliation. They're religious Nazis. Hitler just didn't want German-speaking territory.


They don't want to retaliate. They want to take over the Mideast and eventually the world and create a master religion. The sooner we understand that, the better off we will be. But they are not 10-feet tall. Most people are not buying what they are selling.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, thanks for joining us.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the breaking news. Are Russian officials now convinced the plane crash was an act of terror?

Also, this. We're following why a Chinese sub was tailing an American warship. CNN has now learned about another very troubling move, as tensions between the U.S. and China keep rising.


BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. New U.S. intelligence suggesting a Russian plane crash most likely was caused by a bomb that was planted on board by ISIS or an affiliate.

Let's go live to Russia right now. Our CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in St. Petersburg with us. You're talking to your own sources, Nic. What are you learning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I told a source in the Middle East who's briefed on intelligence matters, he says that it does appears that a bomb was put aboard the Russian aircraft, and it goes beyond that. And he says that there have been concerns in the region about deteriorating security in the Sinai, that those concerns have been communicated to the Egyptians. They've also indicated to them that there were -- that there were concerns in the region about the security at the airport in Sharm el- Sheikh, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Kremlin has been hesitant, at least so far, to directly link this disaster to terror. Has the Russian government responded to the latest reports from here in Washington, as well as London that it was probably a bomb planted on board by ISIS or an affiliate of ISIS?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, the best we've been able to get so far is a spokesperson for the foreign ministry that points towards Egypt. It's been the lead on the investigation. It's been notable and people have been noticing it and commenting on it, though President Putin, since this event happened, has not taken the lead on this as he normally does. His spokesperson has said in recent days not to link events in Syria with the downing of this aircraft.

No one here has specifically knocked down the notion that a bomb was put on board. They categorically won't do that. And the very latest we have is from the main aviation authority here. They say it's up to the Egyptians to lead the investigation; the accident happened there.

And they go on to say that it would be against the law, in effect, for Russia to make an announcement on the state of that investigation without the explicit permission of the Egyptian authorities. That sounds in a way like the Russians saying we can't talk about it until the Egyptians get out ahead of it, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're in St. Petersburg, Nic. That's where Russian experts are examining the bodies even as we speak. Explain what they're finding.

ROBERTSON: Yes, Wolf, you've got forensic experts not far from the airport here at a morgue, helping the families of the victims identify their loved ones.

What a St. Petersburg newspaper printed this morning, and this is the oldest newspaper in St. Petersburg. It is the most respected newspaper in St. Petersburg. It said that there were two types of injuries aboard this aircraft. Those sitting in front of the aircraft had trauma and burns that indicated that they'd fallen from the sky.

Those in the back of the aircraft had trauma, had explosive trauma injuries, that they had metal pieces embedded in their bodies. It's not clear where this newspaper gets their information from, but of course, we have to point out that there are a number of forensic experts, Russian forensic experts working right here in St. Petersburg, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in St. Petersburg for us, thank you.

I want to bring in our CNN aviation correspondent, Richard Quest; our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank; our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes -- he's a former FBI assistant director; and our CNN aviation analyst, Peter Goelz. He's a former National Transportation Safety Board managing director.

Paul, ISIS, they're repeatedly taking responsibility, credit for this. Publicly, they're doing so. They won't say why they did it, how they did it. Why are they being coy?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: They're being very coy in that statement on Saturday also in an audio tape today, basically saying, "We're not going to tell you how we did it. You're going to have to figure that out all by yourselves."

Now, that was a very baffling way to claim credit for what would be the most significant terrorist attack since 9/11. But there may have been a method behind this and a reason behind this; and that may have been to protect the -- an insider at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport. Of course, Elise Labott reporting just in the last few minutes that U.S. intelligence believe that perhaps an insider at the airport helped ISIS, potentially, bring down this airplane.

BLITZER: Richard, how secure, how regulated is this Sharm el- Sheikh Airport? I guess the bottom line question is, could this really happen anywhere?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: No is the short answer. In most of the airports, certainly in the developed world, probably not. But in Sharm el-Sheikh, we're hearing reports it is not as secure as it could have been. You've heard people on this program making exactly that claim.

[18:35:13] The Egyptian tourism minister told me yesterday that the airport conformed to every international standard that it was required to, but this has to be counted with the anecdotal evidence of those who have been there and, of course, the security experts who say that it is entirely possible, particularly since we know that there was ISIS activity and a cell within that particular region.

So you've got to be -- and if you look tonight at what the British authorities are basically saying, in words of one syllable, they're saying, "We do not trust Sharm el-Sheikh. We are not sending any planes in there to bring British tourists home until we can be absolutely safe." So you have to say there's a big question mark over it tonight.

BLITZER: There certainly is. And as you know, Britain and Ireland, they're suspending all flights to Sharm el-Sheikh. Is there concern about more of these attacks or copycat attacks?

QUEST: Absolutely. Absolutely. Until they know why and how, they are not going to send any aircrafts into those particular areas. It's the same reason that you have the abundance of caution from Lufthansa and the other airlines that refuse to fly over the Sinai Peninsula.

Even though the experts said that the missiles couldn't reach that high, that ISIS didn't have them, we're in a -- we're in a new environment here, Wolf. We don't know the full extent of the enemy with which we are dealing.

And let's face it: everything at airport security at the moment has been designed supposedly to prevent exactly this sort of thing from taking place. That it should have happened, if this proves to be true, will give a remarkable wakeup call, if you like, to the aviation industry that you thought you got it right. Back to square one.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, it appears to be an act of terror by all indications that we're getting right now: sources here, sources in London. If in fact, it is an act of terror, wouldn't you expect the Egyptian government to invite your former employer -- employee -- employer, the FBI to come in and join in this investigation? FUENTES: No, I wouldn't expect them to invite the FBI, and I

think that, you know, uthe FBI will make the offer to provide assistance. I don't think it will be accepted. I think the Egyptian government, you know, will be trying to look at a political angle in terms of this. They're not going to be happy if that turns out to be true, that an insider at that airport caused a terrorist act.

This is one of their leading tourist attractions in the country, and this is going to put a serious crimp in their economy if they don't have the ability to sell people on coming to that airport.

BLITZER: Peter, the engines of this plane, U.S.-made engines, the flight data recorder similar to this one, Honeywell makes that, another U.S. company. Shouldn't the NTSB, your former employer, be invited into help in this investigation?

GOELZ: Well, by treaty, they had a right to be there as an accredited representative. But I know that early on Monday morning, they contacted the State Department, and the State Department told them that they were going to be issuing a travel ban to the Sinai, and that they would prefer not to have NTSB employees...

BLITZER: Wait a minute. The State Department, based on what you're hearing, has told the NTSB don't send investigators to Sinai to look at the wreckage?

GOELZ: They said they were going to issue a travel ban, which they have to the Sinai for U.S. citizens, that this was a dangerous area, and they were not going to send people in.

BLITZER: Well, of course, it's a dangerous area, but you'd think this is important to figure out exactly what happened.

GOELZ: Well, I think the NTSB made the decision they did not want their employees put in that kind of harm's way.

BLITZER: Are you surprised by that, Richard?

QUEST: I'm surprised, bearing in mind the BEA and the Germans and the Russians and a variety of other people are all there. And the Egyptians do appear to have managed the seal the area off quite well, and the wreckage has already been removed, in large part.

You can see from these pictures, Wolf, the Russians; you can see people with BEA. That's the French investigators. So we're not talking about sending a large number of NTSB officials over there. You're talking about a small number of highly specialized experts.

And in fact, they took risks, not the NTSB but others took risks with MH-17. When they could just about get in there to start looking at the wreckage, they went. So I am a little surprised, but you know, each person makes their own decision according to the information that they have.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Peter, you want to respond? GOELZ: Yes. The NTSB and the Egyptian civil aviation, they

don't have the closest relationship since the Egypt Air accident off the United States. There was a great and serious disagreement over the probable cause of that tragedy.

BLITZER: Because the U.S. concluded it was pilot suicide; the Egyptian pilot killed himself and took everybody else down. And the Egyptians never bought that, right?

GOELZ: That's correct.

[18:40:04] BLITZER: Yes. All right. I know you were involved in that investigation, Peter, as well.

All right. Everyone stand by, much more. We're getting more information. We'll continue our analysis of what's going on right now. We're following the breaking news right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with our aviation correspondent Richard Quest, our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, former FBI assistant director, and Peter Goelz, our CNN aviation analyst.

[18:45:03] Richard, the U.K. and Ireland, they have suspended all flights to Sinai, at least for now. We're looking at a map. Take a look at this, a map of a U.S. new fly zones in the area where the FAA either prohibits or is flying advisory in place.

In light of recent threats from ISIS, should the United States suspend any additional international or domestic flights because this attack shows an effort by ISIS to infiltrate airports and conduct these kinds of attacks?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: You have to take it on a case by case basis. Now, they've had this restriction for Sinai for some months for flight levels under 25,000, 26,000 feet. So, now, of course, everybody has to decide what to do next.

Following MH-17 what is fascinating about it, Wolf, individual countries do not want some global regulator saying don't fly here and don't fly there. And in fact, individual airlines also want to have a certain latitude for their own intelligence operation to say, we can't fly here, we can't fly there. We saw this very clearly last year with the Ben Gurion shut down when many airlines weren't flying there but some still decided to fly there.

So, to simply say, do not fly, the U.N. agency ICAO tried that. It hasn't worked. I'm afraid it's still very much a piecemeal operation.

BLITZER: Tom, investigators say that the victims in the front of the plane did not have what the victims in the back of the plane had, namely shrapnel in their bodies. What does that say?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, if it's true, they could indicate the location of the explosive device was may be toward the rear of the plane. But oftentimes, in a situation like that, the bodies won't have the shrapnel from the device. It will just be that the device breaks up the aircraft. They may have shrapnel from other parts of the aircraft, but not the actual explosive.

BLITZER: If this was ISIS, Paul Cruickshank, was the motivation for this because of Russia's airstrikes in Syria right now?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERROR ANALYST: I think that would have been part of the motivation, the fact that the Russians are hitting ISIS. Most of their strikes, though, are against groups which are not ISIS inside Syria. But the bigger part of the motivation I think would have been to turbo-charge their standing and support in the global jihadi community.

It's hard to over state the anger felt across the Sunni Muslim world because of these Russian airstrikes in Syria. So, I think their calculation is by hitting Russia, they can get more foreign fighters, even more support or help them with their competition with al Qaeda. And also, if you think about it, at the Sharm el-Sheikh, at the airport, if you had an insider that you recruited into the group, working at the airport, they could have targeted any number of other passenger jets, including passengers filled with British holiday makers. Many, many frequent flights from Sharm al-Sheikh to all sorts of European destinations.

They chose to go after Russia for a reason that suggests that right now at least, Russia is the number one target of ISIS.

BLITZER: Yes, about 25 different airlines flying in and out of Sharm el-Sheikh, at least until now.

Richard, Russia has been downplaying at least the likelihood that it was a bomb. What does that mean for Putin if in fact it was a bomb?

QUEST: It means he's going to have difficult time complaining what happened when it becomes clear and much more importantly, what his reaction is going to be.

Russia is currently hiding behind the skirts of the famous Annex 13. This is the treaty about air accident investigations. And just as we saw with Malaysia saying Malaysia had to give the answers, so, now, everybody is saying Egypt has to give the answers. It's up to Egypt to make the statements. Egypt is doing the investigation.

But I don't think anybody is in any doubt that behind the scenes, Russians are pulling some very hard strings and, for example, French are also there giving vital, vital evidence and help in this investigation.

BLITZER: I want to show our viewers some video, Peter Goelz. Video you'll be familiar with. We're going to show, this is a U.S. government test showing the power of an explosive. This was done after the so-called underwear bomber back in 2009. It doesn't take a very powerful bomb to take out a plane. You're very familiar with this video and demonstration.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Right, we -- the NTSB also did tests on a 747 with much smaller devices and what it shows is the fragility of modern aircraft, they are put together, they are extraordinarily strong, they can fly for years on end with proper maintenance but with this kind of explosive device, even a smaller one, the plane is done.

BLITZER: And it doesn't have to be a sophisticated bomb to smuggle a device like this on board, whether through a caterer or through cargo, and it has an alarm clock or digital watch, if you will, that could trigger it.

[18:50:10] GOELZ: Not at all. It doesn't have to be sophisticated. Not even as sophisticated as the Pan Am bombers, with the baggage transferred from one plane to another.

BLITZER: Pam Am 103 over Lockerbie.

GOELZ: Pan Am 103.

This bomb could have been placed directly on the flight 15 minutes before they took off.

BLITZER: It's pretty chilling when you think about the moment, Tom.

FUENTES: What's more chilling is that this could happen at our airports. We're not checking all the employees that work in our major international airports. They were able to smuggle in guns. They could easily smuggle in explosives, trade that with a passenger that's already gone through security, meeting them in a bathroom and switch bags. So, we could have explosives as carry-on luggage at major airports in the U.S.

And, again, I go back to Drew Griffin's report a couple of months ago when he conducted an investigation at Atlanta airport, at Miami airport.

BLITZER: I remember that report and it's pretty alarming.

All right. Tom Fuentes --

FUENTES: We shouldn't be too hypocritical of the Egyptian security when we don't even have it.

BLITZER: Yes. Peter, thanks very much. Tom, very much. Richard Quest and Paul Cruickshank, guys, thanks to all of you.

We're going to have more breaking news just ahead. CNN has learned a fast attack Chinese submarine shadowed a U.S. aircraft carrier.


[18:55:50] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. New U.S. intelligence suggesting an ISIS bomb onboard a Russian

plane caused its crash in Egypt. More on that coming up.

But there's another story breaking right now. Another sign of rising tensions between the U.S. and China. CNN has learned a Chinese submarine stalked a U.S. aircraft carrier in the oceans of the Pacific Ocean.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, how much did this worry U.S. officials?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are told that U.S. officials were concerned about a possible miscalculation. That someone involved in that incident might make a mistake that would lead to shots being fired on the high seas. We've learned tonight that a fast-attack Chinese submarine kept the USS Ronald Reagan in its sights for several hours while the carrier conducted exercises with the Japanese navy.


TODD (voice-over): A nuclear powered U.S. super carrier stalked by a Chinese submarine. Tonight, CNN has learned a Chinese sub recently tracked the USS Ronald Reagan, a massive carrier with 5,000 American servicemen and 90 aircraft onboard off the southern coast of Japan.

A U.S. defense official says the sub followed the Reagan closely for at least half a day.

A former carrier group commander has seen this first hand.

VICE ADMIRAL PETER DALY (RET.), FORMER CARRIER STRIKE GROUP COMMANDER: What could happen when ships operate close together is there's the potential for misunderstanding or the potential for a strategic miscalculation. Some person cuts off another one, ships can collide. We've had cases where people didn't understand intent, where gun mounts were trained.

TODD: The U.S. official did not say how close the Chinese sub came to the carrier, but says it was submerged the entire way. There's no indication the sub made threatening maneuvers towards the Reagan.

According to the official, the U.S. and Chinese commanders did not communicate with each other. The Chinese vessel was a kilo class fast attack sub.

DALY: It has torpedoes and it has the ability to operate quietly.

TODD: The U.S. official says anti-submarine aircraft were used to track the Chinese sub. Those would likely have been attack helicopters.

DALY: They would make sure that the submarine knew that we've got eyes on you.

TODD: The U.S. and China have been engaged in a dangerous Cold War-style standoff over China's construction of manmade islands in the South China Sea. The U.S., which views the area as international waters, fears the islands could be used as a military outpost. China says the islands and those waters are theirs.

Just a couple of days after the submarine incident, a U.S. warship sailed just 12 miles from the construction of the islands. Later, a top Chinese admiral warned his U.S. counterpart of the dangers of a miscalculation.

Analysts say it's all part of China's new strategy of aggression in that region.

ROBERT DALY, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: They are expanding their submarine fleet at a very fast rate. They're building a new submarine base off of Hainan islands. They would like to be a primary strategic actor and a shaper of their own security environment in the region.


TODD: Admiral Peter Daly who we spoke to earlier in the piece says we may see more incidents like this in the near future. He says both navies right now are starting to build up forces in that region to protect strength. The Chinese have so far not commented on the submarine incident -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, there's been several of these incidents in recent weeks and months. This wasn't just an aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, which could have collided or exchanged fire with this sub. There were several U.S. ships alongside the USS Ronald Reagan.

TODD: That's absolutely right, Wolf. This is a carrier strike group. A U.S. official told there was a guided missile cruiser, two guided missile destroyers sailing with the Reagan. A lot of firepower in play that day, very recently. Something terrible could have happened, if somebody slipped up.

BLITZER: And, unfortunately, the tension level is pretty high right now.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Let's hope they calm down.

All right. Brian Todd reporting for us.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show at the same time @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us once again right here tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following all of the news that's important for you, our viewers, here in the United States and around the world.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.