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Russian City Suffers Terrorist Attack; Security for Olympics in Russia Examined; Government Health Care Website Signing Up More Enrollees; 74 Passengers Stranded on Ship Still Doing Well After Two Failed Rescue Attempts; Interview with Chris Turney

Aired December 30, 2013 - 07:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: These attacks have many around the world asking if Russia is prepared to guarantee safety for the upcoming Olympic Games. They are just over a month away, and as see on this map, the bombings and Sochi are separated by only 400 miles. Diana Magnay is in Moscow with the very latest for us. Diana?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Michaela, Russia's New Year will start with three days of mourning in the town of Volgagrad after it was shaken by these deadly terrorist attacks, as you say, while this country gears up for the winter Olympics.


MAGNAY: Two deadly terror attacks in the southern Russian city of Volgagrad in less than 24 hours, this morning's an attack on a crowded trolley bus in morning rush hour. More than a dozen killed. Authorities stay blast the work of a suicide bomber, possibly detonating his device towards the back end of the bus where the damage seems worse. Many on board were students. This is exam time in Russia. Among the injured, a baby in serious condition.

This follows another attack at noon on Sunday in Volgagrad's main railway station, the moment of the explosion caught on under surveillance video. And 17 people were killed in that blast, authorities saying that was also the work of a suicide bomber.

These attacks come less than six weeks before the start of the winter games in Sochi which is around 400 miles southwest of Volgagrad. Russia's president Vladimir Putin has vowed the highest possible security around the games themselves in the town of Sochi. But it is clearly hard to hold the same of Russia to the same level. Russia is fighting an infamous insurgency in the north Caucasus not far from Sochi. In July, Russia's most wanted man, a Chechen extremist and leader of an Islamist faction in the north Caucasus threatened to unleash, quote, "maximum force to prevent the games from happening."

The U.S. State Department has a $5 million reward out for him. Former intelligence officials believe further attacks are entirely possible.

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: I think if we don't see one an attempt on the Olympics, I'd be very surprised. MAGNAY: Even if the high security around Sochi means terrorists may not be able to strike there, they are proving themselves more than capable of spreading maximum fear ahead of the games themselves, targeting other cities in the region with deadly results.


MAGNAY: Russian officials are saying that all necessary security measures have been taken for the Olympic Games and to protect Sochi. They're introducing, for example, a fan passport, a form of identification for the first time at any Olympic Games. But of course, this does make many question whether the claim that these Olympics will be the safest ever, which is what Russian officials have said can be true. John, Michaela, back to you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Diana Magnay for us in Moscow.

Let's talk more now about this violence in Russia and what it all means for the Olympics. Let's bring in CNN's national security analyst and former Bush homeland security adviser Fran Townsend. Fran, we just heard Bob Baer say in that piece he would be surprised if there were not some attack on these Olympic Games. The "New York Times" had a stunning quote. Officials saying they are more concerned about security here in Sochi than they have been for any game since Athens in 2004. Why so much concern?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, look, rarely do you actually have a terrorist group come out and say, we're going to try and disrupt these games. As I've always said, when Al Qaeda- related affinity groups make these sorts of statements, you got to take them at their word.

The leader of the Caucasus Islamic extremist group claimed responsibility in 2010 and 2011 for bombings there then, called a moratorium during the public protest against Vladimir Putin, and then came back now and has said, we are going to disrupt these Olympics. We've seen three bombings in four days, two in two, you know the last two days and they're effectively deploying these suicide bombers.

So I think the other notable thing to me, John, is they're targeting obviously transportation, buses, subways. Those are, that's not lost on Olympic committee organizers and security officials. We understood, I was responsible for working with the Greeks. The Athens Olympics were the first Olympics away after 9-11, we were very concerned. What we understood was athletes are most vulnerable when they're moving, moving between their, where they're living, the Olympic village and the site of the event. So the notion that transportation where these attacks are happening certainly is going to unnerve officials.

PEREIRA: So we are 39 days away. Give us an idea, because you have an interesting perspective of the conversation that is going on between the host country officials and these teeny ones from around the globe sending their athletes, tear citizens to this place, which is incredibly unstable. TOWNSEND: Right. Well, so these conversations have been going on, American security officials and counterterrorism officials have been to Sochi, have met with Russian officials and talked to them about their concerns. But you bet you these conversations have taken a dramatically --

PEREIRA: In the last day.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. Officials, security officials around the world will be asking for detailed information about what was these indications and warning. Did you see the coming? What's the intelligence about additional capability to launch attacks? Are they going to get closer to the Olympic site? Russian officials have said they're not going to allow cars anywhere inside the Olympic compound 30 days before and 30 days after to sort of give some sense of comfort to athletes. But I'll tell you, I was speaking with a former Olympic athlete at a winter games who said to me, you know, American officials, just the discussion, just the news of these events gets inside athlete's heads. And they do worry about it. So American officials talking about what they're doing, how they're engaging with Russian officials to insure their security is helpful. And they need to do more of this.

PEREIRA: If you can sum it up, what will be if key offense to security, especially in light of these recent events?

TOWNSEND: It's always the last mile, if you will, right. So it's event security around the perimeter of those events, allowing the athletes once they're inside the bubble of their event to know that they're safe so they can focus on their performance.

BERMAN: Quickly, is the U.S. relationship satisfied with the cooperation it's getting from Russia, because this relationship, it's not the best right now?

TOWNSEND: Right. So what you are hearing, John, not all of these relationships are equal. In some countries it's easier than others. We are fortunate working with Greek authorities. There was a good deal of transparency and cooperation. It's a little crunchy. Remember, it's not that long ago that Russians just expelled an individual they believe was an American spy. So the intelligence relationship has always been pretty tense.

BERMAN: Just six weeks ago, Fran Townsend, great to have you here.

TOWNSEND: Happy New Year.

PEREIRA: You, too.

Turning to another story that has a lot of people's attention, 2013 is coming to a close with a blast of arctic air. Look at your screen right now. Do you see that? It says "arctic cold." It's yelling it at you. Freezing cold is sweeping across the country from the Midwest to the northeast. Will it be a deep freeze for your New Year's celebrations? Jennifer Gray is in for Indra Peterson. The good news, I'm trying to find a silver lining, at least your champagne will be child. I like that.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You can stick it outside for a couple hours. It will be very, very cold. It's true, this is a dangerous cold, though. If you are outside in just a couple of minutes, frostbite can start to set in. We are talking about temperatures that feel like 30 and 40 degrees below zero across the northern plains, 34 degrees below zero is what it feels like at International Falls, even Green Bay feeling like 33 degrees below zero. So temperatures will stay 15 degrees below normal for the next couple of days.

Cold temperatures really aren't going anywhere any time soon. You will ring in the New Year with temperatures 24 below zero, places like Chicago. Then by the ends of the week, the second half of the week, we start to see those cold temperatures filter into the northeast. New York City, your high will only be in the 20s by Friday. If you are ringing in the New Year here in Time's Square, temperatures around 9:00 will be at 36, 32 when we ring in the New Year. But when you factor in that wind chill, it's going to feel like 14 in time's square and across the rest of the country. We'll see those temperatures look like 34 in Kansas City, Memphis, and these are temperatures, of course, when you ring in the New Year. So the coldest places are going to be in the north and, of course the northeast, Time's Square, like you mentioned before.

BERMAN: Snuggle.

PEREIRA: Strangers. It will be great.

GRAY: Snuggle with a million people.

PEREIRA: The great hug-in.

BERMAN: What's the word for that? All right. Thank you very much, Jennifer.

Nine minutes after the hour. Obamacare enrollment is up big, some people might say finally. With coverage set to kick in on January 1 officials now say there has been a mad dash over just the last few days. This is welcome news, obviously, for the White House, politically speaking and none too soon. The question now is can they keep this up? CNN's Athena Jones with more now from Honolulu.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Health officials say this surge was possible because the federal exchange is working much better now after that disastrous rollout in October.


CORRESPONDENT: may finally be hitting its stride. Health officials say more than 1.1 million people enrolled in health plans through the federal exchange between October 1st and December 24th with nearly a million coming this month alone.

LAUREN REISIG, ENROLLED IN HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN: It changed my life. JONES: People like Lauren Risin, a 27-year-old marketing director from McClain, Virginia who suffers from Crohn's Disease. She enrolled with a government call center after running into trouble on the Web site. Starting January 1st, her premium is dropping from $1,300 a month to $400.

REISIG: It gives me the option to possibly finally move out of my parent's house at age 27.

JONES: The government will release more complete number, including Medicaid and state-run marketplaces next month. But this latest surge of activity puts overall enrollment on pace to meet this bold prediction made before Christmas.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We now have a couple million people, maybe more, who are going to have health care on January 1st. And that is a big deal.

JONES: What is not clear is how many people may not have coverage starting January 1st due to problems with a site the government has worked overtime to fix. And not everyone is celebrating the numbers. California Republican Darrell Issa says too many people will be getting government subsidized care.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R) CALIFORNIA: There is 318 million Americans, 1 million getting on subsidized health care in many cases, probably another million getting on Medicaid as a result of Obamacare, and 6 million people who had plans they liked, they have been thrown off of it. I don't think there is anything to celebrate.

JONES: And while the surge in enrollment is good news for the Obama administration, it will likely fall short of the goal to sign up 3.3 million people by January 1st. Those who missed last week's deadline for coverage starting in January have until January 15th to sign up for plans that start February 1st. Open enrollment ends March 31st.


JONES: Now this week the White House will be working with congressional Democrats and allies from outside organizations to collect and share the stories of people who will be covered because of Obamacare. High profile supporters of the law, people like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will also be tweeting and writing about the laws benefits. John, Michaela?

PEREIRA: It was very, very early in Honolulu we should point out. We appreciate that reporting.

Let's turn to Ana Cabrera. She has the day's other top stories.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, again. Good morning, to all of you. Making news right now, the NSA is reportedly using James Bond-like methods to hack into computer hardware and exploit loopholes in the software. This is according to a German news magazine citing NSA documents. Now, the report reveals a unit called tailored access operations that uses high-tech spy gadgets to collect the data. The magazine did not real the source of these documents but has previously published reports based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Time is running out for the family of 13-year-old on a ventilator for Jahi McMath who has been on a ventilator following complications after a tonsillectomy. A judge's ruling will now allow children's hospital in Oakland to remove Jahi from life support. It will happen at 5:00 p.m. unless her family appeals. And doctors have declared Jahi brain did. The family says it has found a nursing facility to take her. But the hospital says it has yet to hear from anyone about actually moving her.

Two hikers in New Hampshire are very lucky to be alive this morning after being swept down Mt. Washington by an avalanche. Listen to this, the two men in their 20s were apparently just making their way down the mountain when they wound up being carried by a huge rush of snow and ice some 800-feet, and amazingly their worst injury appears to be a broken arm. Both men walked out under their own power.

The American public appears to be tiring of the war in Afghanistan. We have a new CNN-ORC poll showing just 17 percent of the public supports the war. That is the lowest level since 2006. And more than half of the Americans say the U.S. should pull out before next December. That's when the U.S. plans to remove combat troops from the country.

And the confetti is already falling in Time's Square just ahead of New York's much anticipated New Year's celebration. There is Spiderman leading the countdown in his weekend confetti test. U.N. Supreme Court Justice, by the way, Sonia Sotomayor will be on hand to press the button to lower that famous ball, and we'll also have our Anderson Cooper out there and Kathy Griffin live from time's square New Year's Eve starting at 9:00 p.m. eastern time right here on CNN. I know, John, Michaela, you guys will be tuning from to see Miley Cyrus's performance.

BERMAN: Always.

PEREIRA: My favorite parts is watching to see how many times Kathy makes Anderson blush. The commercial breaks are fascinating.

CABRERA: That's what makes them so good together.

BERMAN: Always something to see.

PEREIRA: Coming up next on NEW DAY, it has been almost a week, passengers and crew aboard an expedition to Antarctica, they are still waiting for help. How is everyone holding up? We will talk to someone on board to get the latest on morale and the ongoing rescue efforts.

BERMAN: And that mid-afternoon snack from the vending machine could cost you in the New Year. On top of adding to your waistline, it could slim down your wallet. We'll explain just ahead.


BERMAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. The third rescue attempt was not the charm; 74 people stuck on a research ship in Antarctic ice since Christmas day. It doesn't look like they will be going anywhere any time soon.

An Australian ice breaker that was trying to reach them had to turn around because of bad weather and awful visibility. We will speak to the leader of the expedition in just a moment. But first let's hear from senior international correspondent Matthew Chance, in London with the latest. Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, John, it's a terrible situation they are in, stranded in that deep pack ice in the heart of Antarctica; 74 people on board the Russian research vessel including scientists, crew and tourists as well. And now the latest attempt to reach them has been abandoned.


TERRY GOSTLOW, EXPEDITION MEMBER: The weather is a bit tough today. It's minus one and blowing snow.

CHANCE (voice-over): Overnight, another setback for the latest rescue mission, the Australian ice breaker ship Aurora Australis forced to turn back to open water after worsening blizzard conditions made it too dangerous for the ship to continue.

It came close within ten nautical miles of the stranded research ship before having to retreat back to 18 miles. Research expedition leader Chris Turney had expressed concerns about harsh weather working against them.

CHRIS TURNEY, PROFESSOR AND EXPEDITION LEADER: Unfortunately, the weather forecast has conditions to continue for the next few days.

CHANCE: All rescue efforts, including air lifting passengers by helicopter on hold until visibility improves. The research team set out to study climate change in Antarctica and retrace the steps of explorer Douglas Mawson who studied life on the frozen continent a century ago.

And on Christmas Eve just 100 miles from where they started, their ship came to a halt, stuck in 10-foot high ice, and they haven't budged since.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's that on the horizon, Chris?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the ice breaker coming to rescue us, Alec.


CHANCE: The crew spotted the first rescue ship from China, known as the Snow Dragon in the distance. But their hopes were quickly dashed. The ice breaker, which was only about six nautical miles away from the trapped vessel, couldn't get any closer due to the unusually thick ice. A French ice breaker also on route to assist, but the mission was called off after it became clear the ship wouldn't get farther than the Chinese boat. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in the ice, but all the well (ph), Happy Christmas from the AAE.

CHANCE: Still spirits on the boat remain high. Crew members and passengers channeling their energies in posts on social media creating video diaries for family members and telling everyone that they're having a great time.

NICOLE DE LOSA, EXPEDITION MEMBER: It's my birthday today. It could be a better day to have a birthday with my 80 something new friends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're gonna have some singing on the ice, which should be fantastic as well. That is absolutely spectacular here, inside this magical winter wonderland.


CHANCE: (on-camera): Well, the latest rescue attempt has been abandoned prematurely. But they're not giving up hope. Because the Australian ice breaker says it is waiting for a break in the weather. And it may get another opportunity to try and reach the stranded people.

PEREIRA: All right. Matthew, thank you so much for that.

We're joined now by Chris Turney. He's the leader of that very expedition stuck in the Antarctic ice.

Chris Turney, so glad to have you here with us. You're a sight for sore eyes, my friend.

TURNEY: It's lovely to see you, too. How are you?

PEREIRA: I am very well. And that's the question we have for you. How are you, and how are your ship mates holding up?

TURNEY: Everyone is doing really well. I'm incredibly proud of them all. They have been holding together really incredibly. They have been looking after one another. People are dealing with the issues in their own unique ways, of course. But ultimately, it's an amazingly supportive group and we're just taking each day and sometimes each hour as it comes.

PEREIRA: Well, that's incredible to hear. We know how important morale is in a situation like this, given the type of emergency you are facing. We understand the latest news is the Australian ice breaker disappointingly is being sent back to open water. They're not able to get through that thick ice. What is the latest you are hearing on the rescue attempts on your end?

TURNEY: Yeah, that's why a push, they couldn't get through. It's deeply frustrating. We had to look at the satellite today before and after the events. What appears to have happened is a massive blowout of very old, you know, several-year-old thick ice, which came from the other side of the immersed glacier and then broke out and then with those southeast winds trapped us in. So we were completely at the wrong place at the wrong time. It's not something that happens very frequently.

And as a result, the ice breakers are finding it very difficult to get through to us. And the Aurora Stratus (ph) has pushed back, as you say, to open water, and so is the Chinese vessel, the Snow Dragon. That's now attempting to get out to open water.

And hopefully, we'll meet up again tomorrow to try a pressure attack (ph). But unfortunately, it was a combination of the heavy ice and very low visibility. It was quite foggy today, and as a result the Aurora couldn't see that far ahead of itself.

PEREIRA: So the Aurora and Chinese vessel as well heading back to open water. Is there any thought that maybe they might try to air lift you out today or are conditions not going to allow for that either? .

TURNEY: Conditions aren't just going to allow for that. You might by aware, I'm actually sitting on a tent in the top deck of the Shokalskiy, actually. The weather's deteriorated again. Yesterday, it was glorious. We had snow this morning. It is now above freezing. It's actually raining outside, but the wind's quite intense, so not ideal for helicopter operations, unfortunately.

PEREIRA: So again, they'll try again tomorrow and maybe they can get a better shot at getting through some of that ice.

Talk about the condition of the ship, the vessel, itself. Is it doing well? Tell us about the conditions the supplies have you on board.

TURNEY: Yeah, the vessel is doing remarkably well. If you get a chance, if you can you visit the Intrepid Science Youtube channel, we just posted a movie this evening to show people around the ship. But the vessel itself is good.

We've got about 10 days worth of food. We just did a stock take. Of fresh food; we got several weeks of delicious dehydrated foods in packets that afterwards, which I know people aren't go down too well.

But the Aurora can also air lift food to us as well. We got plenty of fuel. And we're just keeping ourselves busy. We're doing regular briefings morning and evening. I'm just telling the guys everything we know all the time and just being as transparent as possible, just try to avoid any uncertainty or feeling of things are being held back. We're being quite honest with the team.

And I'd just like to say to any family or friends out there listening or watching, everyone is keeping really well. The ship is in no imminent danger. So all the icebergs are way off in the moment. And no one's -- nothing's making any obvious sign moving towards our way.

PEREIRA: Well, I'm sure all the family and friends that are watching right now are glad to hear of that. Thank you so much for that. Is there any truth to the reports that we are hearing that once you get free from this ice the expedition would continue?

TURNEY: Well, I mean, ultimately, the idea was that we've actually leaving the Antarctic continent. That was that end of that part of the phase. In some respects, yes, but ultimately, just mentioning the ocean as we proceed back to New Zealand, so we're traveling over that way, just making use of the time of it going through.

So nothing substantial about being outrageous or stopping off any places. No, we just want to get the team home. And if we can't air lift out where -- we're talking to other people as well about other options as well to see if we can get the team out as quickly as possible.

PEREIRA: Well, all right. First things first. Let's get you out of there and safe and sound, and we wish you the best. Thank you so much for giving us an update straight from aboard the ship there, stranded in the Antarctica. Give our best to the crew and everybody aboard.

TURNEY; Thank you. And if anyone's interested, family or friends, please visit it our website, Thank you very much.

PEREIRA: We'll track you along the way. Thanks so much, Chris.

John, over to you.

BERMAN: All right, Michaela. So good to see their spirits still so high after everything they have been through.

Next up for us on NEW DAY, are we seeing a reversal of fortunes for the president on Obamacare? The White House says the number of people signing up for healthcare has surged past the 1 million mark. We'll speak about that in our political gut check.

And something new coming to the vending machine at work? Could it help you make a better and healthier food choices? Stay with us.