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War Vet Hurt Helping Others in Tornado; Breast Feeding and Wall Street Don't Mix?; Old Bridges, New Safety Concerns; Iran Hacks U.S. Energy Firms

Aired May 24, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, a highway bridge collapses sending cars and people plunging into frigid water. The obsolete structure will now have to be replaced, but what about other crumbling bridges all across the United States? Can this happen to you?

And a frightening image as an airliner trails smoke in the skies over London. We'll tell you about the disturbing discovery made after an emergency landing.

And a billionaire investor's outrageous comments saying the last thing Wall Street needs is a nursing mother. You don't believe it? We have the video.

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


BLITZER: But first an emotional news conference just wrapped up in Moore, Oklahoma with school officials there. The principal of Tower Plaza Elementary School, the one that was just leveled by the EF-5 twister cried as she described what happened that awful day.


AMY SIMPSON, PLAZA TOWERS ELEM. PRINCIPAL: The rest of the evening was a nightmare. What started off as a normal day at Plaza Towers turned into a horrible, horrible thing for seven families. The rest of the story, however, is how great Moore has been to rally together and behind my teachers and the students.

Yesterday, seeing them all, not one parent blamed us. Not one parent blamed us, because they're Oklahomans, too, and they know what a tornado means and they know what it means in school. We practice our procedures. We get in our safest places. Yesterday, we buried one of our seven. Today, we buried two. Tomorrow, we'll bury two more. Monday, one, and next Friday, one.

And the families want everybody to know that Plaza Towers did what they could do. The teachers covered themselves in debris while they were covering their babies. And I believe that's why so many of us survived that day is because the teachers were able to act quickly, stay calm, and take, literally the weight of a wall on to their bodies to save those that were under them.


BLITZER: Just got back from Oklahoma, myself. What a painful story to cover. There were also very emotional farewells today for two young tornado victims. This morning, a funeral was held for Nicholas Mccabe, a nine-year-old, who loved country music, Legos, and going to the lake.

And services were also held for eight-year-old Kyle Davis. He loved to play soccer. The two boys were among seven children killed in the Plaza Towers Elementary School and our deepest, deepest condolences to all of those families who have suffered so much over these past few days.

A war veteran who was wounded in Afghanistan is fighting to recover from even more severe injuries he received in the Oklahoma tornado. This hero saved three people inside a 7-11 but couldn't save a young mother and her baby. Our Brian Todd is still in Moore, Oklahoma. He's got the emotional story for our viewers. Brian, share it with us.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you mentioned, this man is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who had a traumatic experience there. On Monday, he was right in the middle of the worst of the tornado, facing death again and tried valiantly to save the victims inside his store.


TODD (voice-over): It was the scene of some of the worst destruction and two heartbreaking casualties. The 7-11 on telephone road in Moore, Oklahoma basically disintegrated. Twenty-nine-year-old Megan Futrell and her four-month-old son, Case, died from blunt force trauma.

E.H. Pittman, a clerk at the 7-11, engaged in a heroic struggle trying to save them. His brother, Bruce, describes what happened.

BRUCE PITTMAN, EH PITTMAN'S BROTHER: My brother jumped on top of the woman and her baby to try to protect them as best he could. Unfortunately, with a tornado that size, he wasn't able to hold on and was tossed around quite a bit. And the storm and he was pulled out of a pile of rubble.

TODD: E.H. Pittman now lies in Norman Regional Hospital fighting for his life. He's got spinal cord injuries according to his family, lacerations on his liver, broken shoulder blades, collapsed lungs and, yes, his mother says --

KATHLEEN PITTMAN, EH PITTMAN'S MOTHER: He keeps focusing on he didn't do enough.

BRUCE PITTMAN: His character, I'm sorry, his character is just overwhelming. The amount of friends and family that he has just from going out there and talking to people and being who he is, it's amazing because he's touched so many people in his life.

TODD (on-camera): This is what's left of the 7-11. By getting everyone into a bathroom, E.H. Pittman did save three lives here, and this isn't he first time he's faced death and thought of others rather than himself.

(voice-over) His family says Pittman, an Oklahoma national guardsman, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 when his Humvee was hit in a roadside explosion. He suffered minor injuries, they say, but focused on getting others out of the vehicle and now, once again, he's recovering.

You just left him. What did you say to him?

KATHLEEN PITTMAN: I told him, of course, that I loved him and that it was an honor to know him as my son and as a man, that I felt that he was a true hero.

TODD: I asked his brother if there's a message he'd like to pass to the family of Megan and Case Futrell.

BRUCE PITTMAN: He was doing the best that he could and that's all anybody can ask. I hope that they find some solace and get better. There is nothing anybody can say for that family. Sorry.


TODD (on-camera): The family says at one point they were not sure if E.H. Pittman would ever walk again. They now say that he has recently regained some feeling on and off in his legs and despite a long period of rehabilitation ahead, they're now optimistic -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, he has some family members with important milestones. He was preparing for when this tornado hit. Tell our viewers about that.

TODD: That's right. His mother, Kathleen, has a birthday today. His little boy turned seven years old yesterday and they had to cancel the birthday party for him, but they have their father.

BLITZER: They certainly do. All right. Brian still in Moore, Oklahoma, covering the story for us. Much more on Oklahoma coming up later here in the SITUATION ROOM.

Also coming up, get this, a billionaire investor's outrageous comments saying the last thing Wall Street needs is a nursing mother.

Also coming up, disturbing new information about Iran's capabilities and the way it could strike America's power grids. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Take a look at this. This is a truck. It's in the water outside of Seattle, Washington, after a bridge, a major bridge collapsed. It's a frightening collapse, a bridge along the main interstate highway connecting Seattle, Washington to Canada. How this could happen in the United States of America is unbelievable. But it's another scary reminder about the condition of so many bridges, thousands and thousands of them. Many of us drive across every single day no matter where we live.

CNN's Dan Simon is on the scene for us. Dan, tell our viewers what happened.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first of all, during a week of so much misery and heartache in Oklahoma, I can tell you that the folks in this community feel very fortunate knowing that this, indeed, could have been much, much worse. I'm going to go and had to step out of frame again and you can zoom in. You can see these vehicles still submerged in the water. You get a great glimpse of that bridge collapse.

Now, as we've seen today, Wolf, this collapse is causing quite a conversational around this country about our aging infrastructure, our aging bridges. But I think it's very important to point out that according to authorities, this was caused very clearly by an 18- wheeler with an oversized load that hit an upper portion of that bridge and that's what caused the collapse.

There are some who will say that you had a bigger, newer, stronger, bridge that this wouldn't have happened in the first place even with that 18-wheeler and they would be correct. That is why you're hearing from these critics today. As for the victims, I want you to hear now from a Dan Sligh who was headed on a camping trip with his wife when his vehicle suddenly plunged into the water. Take a look.


DAN SLIGH, INJURED IN BRIDGE COLLAPSE: When the dust hit, I saw the bridge start to fall at that point. For momentum just carried us right over. And, as you saw the water approaching, it's just one of those you hold on as tight as you can and just a white flash and cold water. It was definitely cold this time of the year.


SIMON: At the end of the day, we're just talking about three people with nonlife threatening injuries, Wolf. They're all going to be OK. As for the bridge, this is considered a major roadway here near the Seattle area. 71,000 vehicles cross this bridge every day. The transportation, the NTSB just had a news conference a short time ago.

They don't know when it's going to be fixed. They're looking at some type of permanent or temporary solution. And so, we could be weeks maybe months before things are back up to normal -- back to normal up here, Wolf.

BLITZER: This is a major interstate highway. This is not just a local road or a county road or state. This is an interstate. And people are wondering, were these bridges inspected? What happened? SIMON: This bridge, we know, has been inspected twice in the past year. This was built in 1955, so it is an older bridge. It's been termed -- the term that's been used is functionally obsolete meaning that the bridge apparently was in decent condition, but if you were to build a bridge today it would be built much differently. It would be like if you have, you know, an old standard 4 x 3, television you wouldn't buy that today, you would buy a high definition TV.

So, that's really what we're looking at here. The bridge was apparently in good shape, although, you had this larger 18-wheeler that probably shouldn't have been on that bridge in the first place and you have that oversized load and it hit a girder and that ultimately what caused the bridge to collapse according to authorities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The words "functionally obsolete" and a bridge with so many cars that interstate going over it every single day, that's unacceptable. We're going to have more on this part of the story. Stand by, Dan.

The bridge collapsed near Seattle points, as we all know, to a much bigger problem. In every state, the number of so-called "functionally obsolete" bridges in the hundreds at least, and in many states, the numbers are in the thousands. We asked our Tom Foreman to take a closer look. He's here at the magic wall. This is pretty shocking stuff no matter how many times you hear it, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it really is, Wolf. And if you think back just a few years ago, this is the most famous or infamous bridge collapse we've had in recent years. In Minneapolis, 2007, this heavily traveled span went down at rush hour. Fifteen people died. Federal investigators later concluded it was probably a design flaw that led to this.

But the American Society of Civil Engineers says that of the more than 600,000 bridges across this country, many of them are in danger of some kind of failure for a lot of different reasons. We're talking about old bridges, new bridges, and big bridges and small bridges, all sorts. But look on this map here. Every place that you see yellow is where they have a higher than usual number of bridges that are in some kind of trouble.

We're talking about 151,000 bridges a quarter of the bridges we travel across every single day has some sort of problem here. The word they use is deficient. Deficient means either that they were simply designed so that they're obsolete.

They were designed so long ago, that they're simply not up to modern standards to handle modern loads or that they're in such bad disrepair that they have to be inspected for safety every single year to make sure there's not some cataclysmic problem with them. Now, this number has improved a little bit over the past decade but not by much. Why? Well, listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, we're investing $12 million a year on maintaining our bridges. And if we can just up that to $20 million a year, we can close the backlog of deficient bridges by the year (INAUDIBLE). You know, it's a question of resources.


FOREMAN: Yes. There you hear it. It's a question of resources. That's what they always say. The problem, Wolf, is that when you talk about infrastructure, many, many political leaders at all levels of government will say it's very important, but it's one of those things that's easy to push down to the next year or the next year.

They're hoping that accidents like this sound an alarm and get more money going into that to try to solve the problem. And I should note, Wolf, as Dan mentioned a little while ago, the age of that bridge, the average age of bridges all over this country is well over 40 years.

BLITZER: Maybe they should put signs on these bridges, warning signs to drivers going across the bridge, "functionally obsolete," and at least give folks a warning that these bridges are functionally obsolete. We're going to speak with the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Debbie Hersman.

We're going to get her thoughts on what's going on. Just a thought That i had, "functionally obsolete" and the word "bridge" especially interstate bridge not good. All right. Thanks very much, Tom, for that report.

Imagine you're flying in an airplane and you see this. Take a look at this. You see this outside the window. And it wasn't just one engine that failed. The terrifying moments for dozens of passengers today and what went wrong.

Plus, the first lady, Michelle Obama, shows off some of her best moves. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Fighter jets were scrambled to escort a Pakistani airliner over Britain today. Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the plane was diverted to an airport outside London where police arrested two passengers identified as British nationals. A Pakistani official tells CNN the men got into an altercation with flight attendants and, quote, "threatened to blow up the plane." Police say the incident is being treated as a criminal matter rather than being terror related.

Paula Broadwell is breaking her silence about her affair with former CIA director, David Petraeus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAULA BROADWELL, BIOGRAPHER: If i have remorse for the harm that this has caused, the sadness it's caused in my family and other families, and for causes that we belong to.


SNOW: Broadwell says she's blessed to have the support of her family, husband, and community, which she says have allowed her to pick up, dust off, and move on.

If Hillary Clinton decides to run for president in 2016, she has the early edge in a key state. Iowa voters, so far, favor Clinton above top potential Republican contenders, including senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. The Quinnipiac University poll shows she would defeat Rubio by 11 percentage points today and would beat Paul by four points. Clinton was helped by strong support from women.

And first lady, Michelle Obama, and some D.C. school children had a good time and it was for a good reason. They danced to James Brown's "Going To Have A Funky Good Time" until they had to freeze in positions shown on flash cards when the music stopped. Now, this school that you see here is part of a nationwide program. It's seen a jump in test scores and enrollment after putting a heavy emphasis on the arts. A new story for that school -- Wolf.

BLITZER: She's good. Really good.

SNOW: Yes, she's good.

BLITZER: She got some potential there. Nice moves, as we say. Can you do that, Mary?

SNOW: I certainly cannot.

BLITZER: Yes, you can.

SNOW: No, no. I'm not a dancer.

BLITZER: I have total confidence in you.


BLITZER: All right. Thank you.

Up next, very serious story we're following here in the SITUATION ROOM. It seems to be getting worse. Sexual assaults in the United States military. President Obama tackles another controversy with some blunt talk to U.S. naval academy graduates.

An outrageous, really outrageous comments by a Wall Street giant and it's all caught on tape.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as that baby's lips touch that girl's bosom, forget it. (END VIDEO CLIP)


BLITZER: President Obama may be trying to put multiple controversies behind him as he makes a series of public appearances. Today, it was sexual assaults in the United States military as he delivered the commencement address of the U.S. naval academy. CNN's national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, has the story for us. So, Jim, what happened?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama said he is determined to stop sexual assaults in the armed services labeling them crimes that he says threaten what he called the greatest military on Earth. For the president, it was an opportunity to address yet another controversy facing his administration, and perhaps, to start putting away a string of damaging distractions.



ACOSTA (voice-over): With a sea of graduates from the U.S. Naval Academy looking on, President Obama warned of the ripple effects of sexual assaults and misconduct in the military on what he dubbed the most trusted institution in America.

OBAMA: Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong.

ACOSTA: The commander in chief's tough talk comes as both the military's top brass and Congressional leaders are all vowing to root out a problem that's on the rise. A recent Pentagon study estimated 26,000 members of the armed services were sexually assaulted last year. To hammer the point home, Mr. Obama appeared to connect the sensitive subject to another simmering controversy, the targeting of conservative groups at the IRS.

OBAMA: It only takes the misconduct of a few to further erode the people's trust in their government. That's unacceptable to me and I know it's unacceptable to you.

ACOSTA: That segue was no accident. After weeks of stormy political weather that's thrown the administration off course from the IRS --

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: We have sort of old McDonald's' farm of scandals. Here a scandal, there a scandal, everywhere a scandal. So, we're not sure which scandal to even talk about.

ACOSTA: To the justice department's dealings with the media --

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": See they believe in freedom of the press. Just not freedom of speech from people who I talk to the press.


ACOSTA: Aides to the president are hopeful the coming days offer Mr. Obama an opportunity to turn the corner, and as one official put it, refocus the public's attention on what's most important. Translation? He's getting out of Washington.

First headed to Oklahoma on Sunday to see the damage left by this week's deadly tornadoes, then on Tuesday, the president returns to New Jersey to check on cleanup efforts after Sandy with Governor Chris Christie, a reminder of the bipartisan moment that some top political operatives believe helped propel the president to re-election last fall.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: And the fact of the matter is, he's the president of the United States. He wants to come here and see the people of New Jersey. I'm the governor. I'll be here to welcome him.


ACOSTA (on-camera): As for the issue of sexual assaults in the military, the Obama administration will be staying on message this weekend. A U.S. official confirms to CNN that the Defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, will be addressing the matter before graduates at West Point at their commencement tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a critically important issue that the U.S. military has to deal with.

Thanks very much for that, Jim Acosta.

So here is another story we're watching. If you want to swim with the sharks on Wall Street, don't have a baby. That extraordinary advice from a billionaire trader who says the last thing Wall Street needs, get this, is a nurturing mother.

The billionaire Paul Tudor Jones who was speaking at the University of Virginia's Spring Investing Symposium last month when he said that children were, quote, "career killers for female traders." Watch this.


PAUL TUDOR JONES, FOUNDER, TUDOR INVESTMENT CORPORATION: As soon as that baby's lips touch that girl's bosom, forget it.


Every single investment idea, every desire to understand, every desire to understand what's going to make this go up or going to go down is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience which a man will never -- which a man will never share with that emotive connection between that mother and that baby.


BLITZER: Jones, who has four daughters, has since backtracked. He now says, and I'm quoting, "Any man or woman can do anything to which they set their heart and mind."

Joining us now our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

Gloria, what do you make of this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's crazy. I think we have enough people in the world telling women what they can't do and that someone like this gentleman should start telling women actually what they can do. And I believe that factually the piece in "TIME" magazine just appeared today which actually referred to a study done on the aspects exactly what he is talking about, about women traders, which said that yes, women may be more risk averse but they are less emotional on the trading floor than men, just to speak to his particular point.

But overall it's stupid. He tried to backtrack. He didn't do a very good job.

BLITZER: It's hard to believe in this day and age someone says -- maybe they think that, but someone to actually who's willing to go out there say something like that --

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't know. We could give you lots of examples here. So he's not the lone stranger. I just -- I think back to Donald Reagan and the women don't understand the throw weight of missiles and really don't understand what's going on in Afghanistan and people went berserk. What are you talking about? He had to, you know, issue an apology.

You would think that at the very least they would know that they're in toxic territory here and that they need to know what they're talking about at the time. He used the example of two women that he was, you know, roughly on the same career track who had -- who had babies and that was kind of it for them.

It's just -- you know, yes, in this day and age there shouldn't be this sort of remark but I think it is more common than you'd probably like to think.

BORGER: And can I just say something about women who had babies, having had two of my own who are now -- who are now grown? That the young mothers that I know are more focused when they are at work. They're able to multitask. They are not more emotional about their jobs. They are less emotional about their job. And they're able to do more in a shorter amount of time than lots of men because that's what women do. They multitask.

And if you're a trader on the floor and you're looking at a million different things and you've got to take in an awful lot, actually, being a mother is great training for that. BLITZER: You're a mother, too.

CROWLEY: Indeed. And I -- let's hear it for fathers. He did say in this thing, I mean, just so we don't completely rain on his parade, that he looks at men going through divorce and realizes that their profits will be down 20 percent or 40 percent. I can't remember exactly what he said. But it just -- sorry, it just doesn't compute that for a smart guy apparently who's making this kind of money who has daughters, you know, think before you throw that kind of theory out there.


BORGER: I wouldn't (INAUDIBLE) kind of emotional ups and downs.

BLITZER: Our next guest is a woman, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Debbie Hersman, standing by. We're going to talk to her about that bridge collapse in Seattle, Washington. I'm outraged about that.

Stand by for that interview, guys. Thanks to both of you.

Later, the last thing any airline passenger wants to see out of their window is some smoke and some engines that are not doing what they're supposed to be doing.


BLITZER: The head of the National Transportation Safety Board in -- is in Washington State right now with a team of investigators investigating the collapse of that interstate bridge.

Deborah Hersman is on the scene for us, she's joining us right now.

Thanks very much for coming in. We see that the bridge is not a small bridge, it's a bridge involving an interstate. Why was this bridge so vulnerable even if hit by an 18-wheeler? The whole bridge collapses. How -- how is that possible?

DEBORAH HERSMAN, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Well, you can see, you've still got part of the bridge span standing and so one of the four over water bridge spans actually collapsed. It's about 160-foot section and this is about an 1100-foot bridge span. And so we are looking at that right now. We're looking at the bridge. We've got to do some documentation and get that dropped span out of the water so we can see what it tells us.

BLITZER: This bridge was described as functionally obsolete by the Federal Highway Administration and it's one of thousands and thousands of structurally deficient bridges all over the United States.

All right, Deborah, how big a problem is this? Because if you know a bridge is, in the words of the Federal Highway Administration, functionally obsolete, a lot of people are not going to want to drive over it.

HERSMAN: That's right. And one of the things that we want to make sure that we understand is what was the actual health of this bridge. You can have a bridge that is older, that does have a lot of years on it, but yet like some of us can still be very healthy and so we want to make sure that we know what the condition of the bridge was and what the risks were.

BLITZER: So was it safe? Was this bridge really safe given the fact that these pictures that we're seeing are awful?

HERSMAN: Well, I think what we need to do is identify what the facts are and what caused this bridge stands to drop. But let's be clear. No one expects to see an interstate bridge in the water. And so we need to make sure that we understand what happened, why it happened, so we can prevent it from happening again.

BLITZER: We've been told, and correct me if I'm wrong, you know this a lot better than I do. There are, what, 66,000 structurally deficient bridges in the United States classified even worse than this bridge outside of Seattle. Is that true?

HERSMAN: That is true. And I will tell you that one of the reasons that we have in the infrastructure on our list, we've got a most wanted list of transportation safety improvements. Our top 10. And one of the issues on the top lit -- 10 list is to maintain the integrity of our infrastructure. And so this is a focus for us. We believe that as a nation we've got to pay attention to our infrastructure whether it's airports, bridges, railroads, or waterways.

We have got to maintain it. This is the nation's house. We've invested in it. We've got to take care of it.

BLITZER: Here's what -- I just thought of this. Tell me if this is a crazy idea or if you like it. You're in charge of the National Transportation Safety Board. You put signs up before the structurally deficient bridges, big signs, and you alert drivers you're about to go over what the U.S. government calls a structurally deficient bridge. You do this at your own risk.

Good idea or bad idea?

HERSMAN: Well, we want to make sure that people understand what these terms mean. And I know some of them do sound bad but you can still have a bridge that can be healthy even if it is considered structurally deficient.

What that means is if we designed a bridge today we would not design it the way it is. This bridge was designed in 1954. It was built in '55. So it's been around for a long time. It doesn't have shoulders. It's not as high as far as the opening portal that we would like to see based on the traffic that we have today. And so if we were to build this, given the average daily traffic count and the truck traffic that we would see, we wouldn't build it this way today. But that's the way that they built it in '57 or in '55. BLITZER: Are you -- are you describing the term functionally obsolete bridges or structurally deficient bridges? Because I've heard both used a lot today. And I'm not exactly sure what's the difference?

HERSMAN: Right. You know, part of this is understanding what some of this terminology means but also how these bridges are inspected. Because things can last for a long time but they have to be inspected. They have to be maintained. And if you have problems you've got to repair those. And so certainly when we're looking at bridges, some of the big risk factors for bridges is cracking, things like petite cracking or corrosion. Those things have to be dealt with immediately. We've seen those problems before.

When we are looking at the records for this bridge we will be trying to determine if any of those conditions were present here and if they were a problem. But we're still early in the investigation and so we really need to look at those records and determine what was this bridge's rating and what gave it that rating?

BLITZER: Deborah Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board, I still like that -- those warning signs. I don't know if they're going to get anywhere.

If our viewers like them, send me a tweet @Wolfblitzer. Happy to see what you guys think as well.

Deborah Hersman, good luck with this investigation. And let's hope we get this situation under control, this infrastructure situation here in the United States, because it is a major, major problem. Thanks very much for joining us.

HERSMAN: Thank you. And I'm sure it would make people think about the infrastructure if we put signs up.

BLITZER: Yes. I won't -- think about it and we'll discuss. Thank you.

Coming up, Iran's new way of targeting the United States. It could involve some of the most necessary and most vulnerable things in the United States.


BLITZER: Iranian hackers are now probing and attacking key parts of the U.S. energy infrastructure.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has the details.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gas companies, oil pipelines and electrical grids. They're all potential cyber warfare targets. Iran may already be looking for new weak spots after being accused of disrupting activity on the websites of American banks. REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're seeing disturbing indications that they are going beyond this to potentially attack some of our infrastructure.

LAWRENCE: Representative Adam Schiff oversees cyber security on the House Intelligence Committee. He says hackers somehow connected to Iran's government are going after energy companies.

SCHIFF: I think it says a lot about the Iranian intent.

LAWRENCE: Schiff says the latest intrusions had nothing to do with stealing company secrets and all about looking for ways to seize control of energy companies' operating systems.

SCHIFF: And make changes that could bring about either blackouts or accidents or catastrophes. That would be a very dangerous step, obviously a very war like step.

LAWRENCE: A U.S. official would not specifically name Iran but tells CNN officials are investigating a string of malicious cyber actions focused on our infrastructure.

Just days ago, Congress released a report showing how vulnerable the electric grid is to attacks from Iran and North Korea. One utility reported being barraged by 10,000 attempted attacks each month. Others described cyber attacks on the grid as daily, constant and malicious.

JAMES LEWIS, CSIS: I think everyone underestimated how quickly the Iranians would progress.

LAWRENCE: Analyst Jim Lewis has advised the White House on cyber security issues. He says Iran could use its new capability as a hedge against future attacks.

LEWIS: If there's something else that happens in relation to their nuclear program, they have the ability now to do things that are damaging in the U.S. and we don't really have a good way to stop them.


LAWRENCE: So far these have just been probes. The hackers getting in there and looking around. But there were similar intrusions last year against a Saudi oil company. And in that case, it was followed by a full-blown attack in which company data was affected and destroyed on thousands of that oil company's computers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chris, thank you. So how bad could this Iranian hacking plot be?

Joining us now is David Sanger. He's the chief Washington correspondent of "The New York Times," the author of the very important book "Confront and Conceal" which is now out in paperback.

Here's the question. Could the Iranians, David, actually wipe out, or at least undermine much of the U.S. power grid?

DAVID SANGER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Wolf, at this point, we don't know how good they are. Eighteen months ago, when they first began to organize what they announced was a cyber core, it didn't look like they were very good. And most of the attacks that they were doing at that time were what are called denial of service attacks. They basically barrage other computer systems, bank machines, and then hope to bring them down.

What we've seen since last summer, though, was much more sophisticated. So the Saudi Aramco attack, the attack against one of the biggest oil producers you referred to in that piece that just ran now, was in fact pretty effective because it did destroy data. It did not actually get into the oil production side. It was on the administrative side.

In the case of these most recent attacks, which we reported a few weeks ago, were clearly from the Middle East and now appeared to be from Iran as the "Wall Street Journal" reported this morning. Those attacks seem aimed at taking over infrastructure. And they have not yet succeeded. But, you know, one day someone's going to figure out a way to go do this.

And of course, the Iranians are thinking this is very much what the United States and Israel did to them with the attack known as the Stuxnet attacks.

BLITZER: We know that China has posed a hacking threat to the United States. But a lot of analysts believe that the Iranian plot, if there is one, is even more alarming. Tell our viewers why.

SANGER: Well, when the Chinese tend to attack these American corporations and so forth, they're mostly doing economic espionage. They're sweeping up big amounts of data. And they're bringing them back home, they're reading it, they're looking for corporate secrets. They probably have very little reason to go in and disrupt the American economy, because they are so invested in the American economy.

Now the Iranians are not invested at all in the American economy. And so in some ways they're more dangerous, they have only upside on this, no downside.

BLITZER: David Sanger, from "The New York Times," a real authority and expert on this subject, thanks very much for joining us.

SANGER: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: A major bridge collapses. We're going to hear from the man who took these exclusive pictures. Stand by.

And it looks like "Star Trek," but these people work at a nuclear plant that has some safety problems.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's a frightening image, an airliner trailing smoke in the skies over London. The British Airways plane bound for Oslo, made an emergency landing as passengers evacuated safely. And Richard Quest is joining us now from London.

Richard, when we saw this smoke, it must have been pretty terrifying. Tell our viewers what happened.

RICHARD QUEST, HOST, CNN'S QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: Basically, the plane had just taken off from Heathrow on its way to Oslo in Norway. Within minutes after taking off, passengers report they heard a bang from the left side of the aircraft and saw part of the engine cover fly off.

Now that was bad enough. But a few moments later, other passengers say on the right-hand of the aircraft, they saw flames coming out of that engine. And that's very much what we see in the pictures, Wolf.

We have the plane coming overhead. Where you can clearly see smoke coming out of the right-hand of the -- engine. But when you look at the plane on the ground, you realize that both engines on this A-319 lost their covers. And that's going to be the conundrum in solving this. Why did both engines seem to have something happen to them during this flight.

BLITZER: It must have been, Richard, so terrifying for the passengers. What are you hearing?

QUEST: Terrifying at one level because of the noise, but at the same time, quite normal in the sense that the plane didn't jolt, or didn't dive, or anything like that. Modern aircraft are designed to fly on one engine.

And from what I hear, of course, is this -- by the time the pilot had stabilized the aircraft, brought it round, to come back in to land, passengers probably wouldn't have noticed that much difference. Except they will have seen the smoke out of the right, and they'll have known the engine on the left.

We don't know whether this was a failure of the catches on the engine cowlings that hadn't been fastened, we don't know what it was. The investigation started.

You're right, it must have been an extremely worrying time for passengers. But just remember always in this situation, planes are designed to take off, fly, and land, twin engine jets, on one of those engines.

BLITZER: This was an Airbus, an Airbus jet, so I assume they're going to be inspecting the entire fleet of these kinds of jets, is that right?

QUEST: No, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't say that, Wolf. I think they've got to work out, first of all, what happened. Was it unique to the cowlings and to the engines on this particular plane. Either because of a failure of maintenance or because of an engineering fault. But bearing in mind, this plane's 12 years old and the engines are, you know, many years old. And they're way, way, reliable, tested. This is not new technology by any stretch of the imagination.

Hundreds of these engines are around. So I'm guessing before there'd be any wide investigation, the authorities, the AAIB, will grab this engine and really drill down to find out, was it manufacturing or was it a work of maintenance error.

BLITZER: Richard Quest in London for us, as usual, thanks very much, Richard.

And happening now, breaking news. Desperate cries for help as the tornado hit. Stand by for the dramatic 911 phone calls that have just been released to CNN.

A firsthand account of a terrifying bridge collapse that plunged cars into the water. A witness joins us along with his exclusive video.

And convicted murderer Jodi Arias must wait for her punishment. The family of her ex-boyfriend could play a key role in whether she lives or dies.

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