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Boston Bombing Investigation Continues; Letter to President Obama Tests Positive for Ricin; Interview With Former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge; Ricin Possibly Mailed To President Obama; Bipartisan Gun Control Bill Fails In Senate

Aired April 17, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. I'm Jake Tapper.

And this is THE LEAD live from Boston, Massachusetts, one block over from the scene of the deadly terrorist attack here. It's been the biggest question since the moment the bombs went off. Who could have done this? Within the last few hours, conflicting reports began rolling in, some claiming that a suspect had been arrested. We now know from the FBI and a number of other sources that is not the case.

An official briefed on the investigation tells CNN that investigators have visually spotted a potential suspect on videotape from the scene, but we're also told authorities do not know who that person is. There is no positive I.D. We are expecting more details at a briefing from law enforcement in an hour. We will bring that live.

We have learned the identity of the third victim who was killed in the attack, her name Lingzi Lu, a Chinese graduate student at Boston University. The school confirmed her identity earlier this afternoon; 8-year-old Martin Richard and 29-year-old Krystle Campbell also were killed in the horrible bombings; 178 people were injured and at least 100 have been released from area hospitals.

I'm joined now by chief national correspondent John King and CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem.

Juliette, start with you. What are you hearing? You are a former homeland security official. What are you hearing about the latest on the developments, especially when it comes to this individual who was spotted on videotape?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN ANALYST: Essentially what you said, you know, the same -- the idea they would have a name that soon seemed just way too quick for someone in custody unless he was well known to law enforcement already or he was under surveillance.

Right now this is exactly how you would expect an investigation to unfold. There will now be trying to figure out what his name is, but, Jake, the key point is what are they going to say at 5:00? We shouldn't second-guess that. If at 5:00 we actually see the picture, it means the case is cold and they are going to engage the public. Someone rented to him, something sold him, someone saw him that day. That is totally appropriate and that is a law enforcement tactic, is actually engaging the public and asking them what they saw. If they do not disclose the picture, it will just be to confirm what we're already hearing confirmed now, and that they're probably close.

I believe just sort of the way this probably unfolded today is news that there was a picture was disclosed, so that this person might do something that would, you know, get them under law enforcement...


TAPPER: You think this was purposeful?

KAYYEM: I think there was probably -- I mean, there's been so many validations of the picture.

TAPPER: Right.

KAYYEM: That that just sort of comes out. It's not like anyone is trying to hide anything.

The name seems sort of odd to me always from the beginning. I have been saying I really think it is important that the only goal we really all collectively should feel about, should feel for, is that the arrest is really clean and that the case is really strong. And then that will be competent government and that is actually a good thing.

TAPPER: And, John, we know some of the videotape law enforcement is using is from Lord & Taylor,although Lord & Taylor will have no comment, but sources have told us that, that they -- the cameras picked up and law enforcement had been studying this visual.

What else do we know about the location of this, not the location, but the spotting of this individual on surveillance video?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's address what we know and then we can talk a little bit about what has been a source of confusion is.

What we do know is that overnight they had a breakthrough in the video analysis and I'm told that largely from the Lord & Taylor surveillance and there are several cameras outside the department store, several others inside. We don't know exactly which cameras or several cameras.

But I was told by several sources video from the Lord & Taylor department store was the breakthrough. They identified somebody delivering, dropping, placing the package, the second bomb at the second explosion location and they used video enhancement.

I'm also told some video from a Boston television station was also used as part of that process. From that, I was told they had a clear identification of a suspect and they are pursuing that from there. I also did speak on the record with the Boston mayor, Thomas Menino, who confirmed it was the Lord & Taylor breakthrough. He said there had been significant progress in the investigation and he would not go any further.

As to the confusion -- and this is very frustrating on this day. Fran Townsend, our national security contributor who has excellent sources in the federal government, she had a federal source saying an arrest was made. I had a Boston police source. He would not wave me off that information.

When we reported that information, WCVB here in Boston said there was an arrest. The Associated Press said there was an arrest. Others said an arrest was imminent. I'm not saying that to spread the blame. It is very frustrating in a breaking news situation when that happens, but, clearly, now we have on the record from the Justice Department, FBI, and Boston police that no arrest has been made.

Clearly, there is a significant turn in the investigation and, clearly, at this point it appears that people who have been reliable sources in the past 48 hours either were giving us inaccurate information or got out ahead of themselves on something and that is what we're trying to piece together.

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much.

We will turn now to the former secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge. He joins me now from Washington, D.C.

Secretary Ridge, thanks so much for joining me.

What is the latest in the investigation as far as you know from your sources? Certainly, you are plugged in to law enforcement.

TOM RIDGE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF: Well, I think I'm going to wait until Commissioner Davis holds his press conference at 5:00.

I think there is undeniably a great desire for not just the press, but the 300 million Americans to know if an arrest is imminent. But at the end of the day, there are conflicting reports and I think we will probably get some clarity when the commissioner speaks to us at 5:00.

TAPPER: What types of things -- knowing what we do now, which is that there is a tremendous effort by law enforcement authorities to comb through all images from the area around Copley Square, both from the Lord & Taylor surveillance camera, other surveillance cameras. Law enforcement has been reaching out to individuals who were there, having them share their photographs, share their cell phone and iPhone videos.

What kind of technology is available to counterterrorism officials, to law enforcement to enhance these visuals? I know we have an idea from movies that one can just enhance these images to a remarkable degree. Is that pure fiction, or is there something there that law enforcement can actually do when it comes to that technology?

RIDGE: Well, Jake, I think you're on to something.

I think, first of all, the technology is dramatically improved year by year. And the opportunity to take granular digital photographs or videos and break them down for much clearer pictures, that is just part of the scientific approach that the investigators on the scene have taken.

It's very incremental, it's very methodical. Think if you would of those huge jigsaw puzzles with 1,000 or 5,000 pieces. You spread all over a table and you start trying to put those pieces together bit by bit. And it's painstaking work and every once in a while there may be one piece of the puzzle that jumps out at you -- and that is maybe what Commissioner Davis is going to talk about -- that leads you to putting a more complete picture together.

So, in large measure, it has been since 9/11 that we have continued to develop these technologies. But at the end of the day it is grunt work. You have got investigators, police, local police, state police, FBI, scientists at various labs taking a look at the forensic evidence associated with the explosive device with the remnants of the explosion. All in all, you have got a very comprehensive, holistic approach, but it is very incremental, minute detail after minute detail.

And if in fact the major lead comes from a video, then it's -- that's serendipitous. We are very fortunate in that regard. The other thing I think it is important to mention, if you don't mind, in the midst of this horror, this ghastly evil, there is some positive news.

And when you read about how the first-responders reacted immediately, the police, the fire, the emergency service personnel, how triage was done immediately, how obviously at the point of the serious injuries and deaths, the decisions were made to distribute the seriously wounded to multiple hospitals, they did triage on the scene, they'd always been preparing -- obviously been preparing for a mass casualty event.

This speaks I think to the growth and maturity frankly of the Department of Homeland Security, which is a federal agency, but you can't secure the country and you cannot become resilient inside the Beltway. You need partners. You need the state and the locals.

And to that end, when you have training exercises, when you give them federal grants for equipment, when you share information, that is the physical infrastructure, the personal infrastructure. But there is also a psychology to resilience. And as you report and then others have noted, people went to the hospitals immediately, not being asked.

We know blood is needed. We're going to respond. You have people from one side of the street going to the other side of the street to help out. That just speaks to a very resilient, a very resilient, compassionate and caring country. And amidst all this horror, that is a pretty positive sign. TAPPER: No doubt the first-responders were quite heroic and saved lives with their quick actions and running into the smoke and not just away from it, absolutely.

We know, of course, also, Secretary Ridge, that the London marathon, they are now taking extra precautions because of what happened here just a block or so away here in Boston, and in the very near future we're going to see huge crowds at the Indy 500, at the Kentucky Derby.

How do we as a society and how does the federal government keep people safe at these massive events?

RIDGE: Well, you have asked the impossible question, for there is no good, total answer.

You can reduce the risk of an incident, but you cannot create a failsafe environment, certainly not along a 26-mile-plus path that goes through commercial, residential areas. It is difficult enough at an amphitheater, it is difficult enough at a race track, a gymnasium, or stadium.

I think we will see in the future perhaps additional security, but there are certain venues that it is very, very difficult to maximize to a point where you're fairly confident that nothing can happen, and certainly a marathon is one of those kinds of athletic events.

But as you and I both know, every day in this country, there are multiple venues where hundreds if not thousands if not tens of thousands of people for social, political, athletic reasons show up. So there will be lessons learned based on this tragedy. There will be probably a little bit more inconvenience down the road.

But I read with great interest that the London marathon is going on. Pittsburgh is having a marathon next week. They have not canceled that. They're encouraging the runners to go. There was an interesting piece by Tom Friedman today in "The New York Times." And he basically -- if I could paraphrase, it says, you know, terrorists live in caves. But we don't live in caves in the country. We don't live in fear. We're not going to hunker down. We're not going to bunker down. We're going to keep doing what we have done for a couple hundred years, enjoy this bounty and the liberty that is ours.

We will ramp up security. It may be a little bit more inconvenient, but we make no mistake about it. We accept this as a global scourge. We have been waiting for something like this to happen. It did. But we're far better prepared to respond and recover. And I have got great confidence in the investigative abilities of the federal, state, and local police to find an answer to this in the near future.

TAPPER: All right.

Former Pennsylvania Governor, veteran, and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, thanks so much for joining us. Please stay with us. We will be right back.


TAPPER: As if the national psyche had not been damaged enough by the terrorist attack here in Boston, a new panic in the halls of our most vital government institutions today.

Letters sent to President Obama and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker have initially tested positive for ricin, a deadly poison. We should point out that those initial tests are sometimes inaccurate, but they did create an evacuation in the Senate today.

I want to bring in chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin at the White House and chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash on Capitol Hill.

Jessica, let's start with you. What is the White House telling us about this letter to President Obama? I know it didn't actually arrive at the White House.


TAPPER: But what do we know about the substance in this letter?

YELLIN: Hi, Jake.

Well, we know, first of all, that they are -- the FBI and the Secret Service are continuing to investigate and conducting further tests on this letter. They say that they had protocol set up for exactly this kind of incident and this is the exact standard incident that they, you know, protocol they set up after 9/11.

The letter contained a message that was parallel to the same message that was in a letter sent to Senator Wicker. It said, quote -- it said, quote, I am -- it said, "To see a wrong and not expose it is to become a silent partner to its continuance. I am KC and I approve this message", which is allegedly a comment on health care and providing care in general and -- so, it could provide something of a lead for investigators. They believe they tied it to Memphis, Tennessee, but nothing beyond that.

They are looking for a third facility, the possibility there were traces of ricin at a third facility.

But the emphasis here from the White House, Jake, is that nothing reached the president. No one was injured. And at this point they don't see a connection to the Boston attack, but, of course, at this early stage they also can't definitively rule that out, Jake.

TAPPER: And as, of course, we know ricin obviously there is often a false positive for the first test.

YELLIN: Right.

TAPPER: Congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- chief congressional correspondent, quite a day on Capitol Hill. Explain to us what happened there today and what is the atmosphere? Is it as nerve-racking as after 9/11 when those anthrax letters were sent?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not quite that nerve-racking. There was certainly a lot of anxiety then but certainly much more palpable than it has been for years here on Capitol Hill.

I should note just to sort of follow up on what Jessica was saying, as far as I'm told there had been no arrests, nobody in custody who may have been responsible for these letters being sent to Senator Wicker and to the president, but law enforcement sources as well as one senator, say that they do believe there is somebody they're looking into who may have been harassing Senator Wicker in the past.

Now, mentioned the fact that there's been a lot of anxiety. If you look on the Senate floor as we speak, the work is going on. Life is going on. There is a very critical vote happening right now on a bill or amendment, I should say, to expand background checks for guns. We expect the bipartisan compromise to go down.

So, there is certainly legislative drama here, but much of the drama was about the safety here on Capitol Hill. For a couple hours, there was a lot of tension because a hall right down from where I am right now was shut down because of a suspicious package going to Senator Richard Shelby's office. In another office building, there were two floors effectively on lockdown because of suspicious packages there.

Actually they were given the all clear. But it does give you the sense of how much people are paying much more attention to even questions about whether anything is suspicious around in some state offices. Carl Levin of Michigan, Jeff Flake of Arizona, they, too, issued press releases saying they had suspicious letters coming and they turned it over to officials.

But, you know, with going back to your initial question, Jake, with regard to anthrax, definitely you get the feeling that, although they're saying there are no definite connections, you have that sense of anxiety that you did during the anthrax attacks which were just not too long after 9/11.

TAPPER: And, of course, that vote you're talking about, that is the bill from the West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. You're saying it is expected to go down.

One last question for you, Dana. What, if anything, will the Senate do differently because of today's events that they weren't already doing because the anthrax scare more than a decade ago?

BASH: Well, there are some things we can already see. In fact, I believe we had some video of the fact that some garbage cans that are in and around the Capitol Hill complex have been turned on their side, dismantled for obvious reasons, given what happened in Boston. The other thing is that the mail facilities again are off site. Mail is not supposed to come to the United States Capitol. They have been closed down and people won't get mail until Monday as they continue the investigation and they continue to look around and make sure that there weren't any other letters that had traces of ricin or anything else as they're looking into what went to Senator Wicker of Mississippi -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Dana Bash, Jessica Yellin, we'll be back to you shortly. Thank you so much.

Now, everyone is an expert in poison so let's find out more about ricin and how it can be used as poison. Just how dangerous is it?

Joining us from New York is Leonard Cole, he's an expert on bioterrorism and on terror medicine. And, of course, we still have with us former Department of Homeland Security secretary, Tom Ridge.

I'll start with you, Mr. Cole.

Just explain to us, what is ricin and how difficult is it to make it?

LEONARD COLE, TERROR MEDICINE EXPERT: Ricin is a byproduct of the castor bean which is a naturally found plant to nature. We derive castor oil from the castor bean. And in the course of processing to get castor oil, one of the unused byproducts is ricin.

And when ricin is purified -- and you have to have some laboratory knowledge to do this -- purified and produced in a light powder form that can float and be inhaled, it can be highly dangerous, lethal. One or two grains of salt would be the equivalent size of the amount of ricin that could be lethal to a human being if the person ingests or inhales it.

TAPPER: It's incredible. And there's no antidote, right?

So how common are ricin attacks in the U.S.?

COLE: The actual attacks, very, very rare. There had been instances when some white supremacists' groups had either had plans to or actually did produce some ricin and they've been stopped. It has not been a generally used bio agent.

You know, first of all it is a biological agent insofar as the castor bean as a plant, it is a biological material. We generally think of bio attacks as coming from bacteria or fungi like anthrax or small pox. But ricin is easily available in terms of the potential for making it into a dangerous material and weapon. But it has not been used extensively by any means.

TAPPER: And what are the symptoms if exposed to ricin?

COLE: It's a series -- well, first of all, the effects of ricin, the toxin, is effectively a neurotoxin. It begins to shut down your nervous system, something like sarin, the agent used in the Japanese subways in 1995.

What happens is you begin to get symptoms, unpleasant for sure: dizziness, nausea, tightness -- you're seeing it on the screen -- fatigue, and actually after a while if it gets more severe you have trouble with your coordination and neurological capabilities, and ultimately death.

TAPPER: Horrifying.

So, Secretary Ridge, there is an uncomfortable deja vu sense about all of this. We're told that there is no connection, or none has been established, anyway, between the terrorist attacks here in Boston and the ricin letters. But it does have an echo of what happened after 9/11 with those anthrax attacks.

What are your thoughts when you hear about these ricin letters?

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, you use the right word. It has a resounding echo in my mind and in my heart because I think I was sworn in on October 8th. We had dealt with the tragedy and the horror of 9/11. There had been reports of anthrax. The following weeks, there were additional reports of anthrax.

But your correspondents have demonstrated once again we've learned from those lessons, we've learned from the experience of 9/11 and the anthrax. What have we learned? They sort the mail not at Congress anymore. Not at the White House. It's sorted at a separate facility.

Somebody talked about, well, there's new protocol at the White House. Well, there are new protocols established to deal with the kind of terrorist attack that occurred on 9/11, but different protocols dealing with intoxication.

So, every step along the way when we've experienced and confronted the horror associated with these attacks, there have been lessons learned and they've been applied, which means as a country as terrible as these things are we listen, we learn, we become better prepared, and therefore we become a much more resilient country.

And so to that extent -- the only thing I wanted to just compliment you on is frankly I think it was good to have a bioterrorism expert on. I could say the same thing and people probably wouldn't necessarily view me as a credible source but one of the real challenges, I think, for the media and for journalists yourself at a time like this is to make sure that people understand the nature of the attack, the nature of the poison.

It's serious, absolutely. But let's not be breathless about it. It is not a contagion. There are certain symptoms and right now it seems to be a condition that is well-contained. We'll learn more in the next few hours and weeks, but I think it is very important for the public generally to understand the nature of these attacks.

TAPPER: All right. Secretary Ridge, stick around. We're going to come back to you. We're still waiting on that news conference on the terrorist manhunt here in Boston. That's coming up. We'll bring it to you live.

Plus, next, we'll get more on the latest on the investigation. Stick around.

We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Jake Tapper.

I want to go to Capitol Hill where our senior congressional correspondent, chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has breaking news.

Dana, what's going on?

BASH: We mentioned earlier life is going on here on Capitol Hill and people who have been pushing for new gun laws to curb gun violence just suffered a big blow and those people include those over at the White House including the president who really pushed for new laws. The bipartisan compromise to expand background checks on guns just failed to break a Republican filibuster. The vote was 54-46. So, technically, six votes short of the 60 needed to break that filibuster.

It is a huge loss and a huge disappointment to the Democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey, both of whom had an A ratings from the NRA and said that they wanted to go ahead and do this they said to change things post Newtown. But they just couldn't convince enough senators, particularly Republicans, to go along with it expanding background checks just to gun shows and Internet sales. But too many senators said they didn't think this was the right way to go.

This is probably the closest they thought they could come to changing gun laws. There will be other amendments that we're going to see, but in terms of a real prize for those looking to expand gun restrictions this was it and it didn't happen.