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Olympic Terror Threat; Interview with California Senator Dianne Feinstein; Leno's Next Move?; Head: Russia's Response to a Possible Attack; West Virginia Schools Dismiss Students Over Water Concerns

Aired February 6, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Got my encrypted iPads, some bottled water, a rabies shot. Bring on the Winter Games.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. Athletes are already hitting the slopes as new arrests and new terror alerts threaten to ruin the peace for which the Olympics are supposed to stand. We have all seen the questionable plumbing and the his and his toilets, but is the biggest threat the one we cannot see?

The politics lead, President Obama pulling something of a Costanza, giving red state Democrats, it's not you, it's me routine, and offering to stay home as the 2014 races heat up. Will have vanishing act help them win?

And the pop culture lead, the reigning king of late night gives up Johnny's seat, but not everybody is sad to see him go.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We begin with the world lead. With hours to go before the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, a source tells CNN U.S. intelligence officials are chasing down new threats of a possible terrorist attack. That's in addition to the warning that came out yesterday during the show about terrorists possibly hiding explosive materials in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes on flights going into Russia.

While there are still questions about the credibility of these threats, Russian leaders seem to be trying a new tactic to ease concerns about Olympic security, reminding us all of the other places that have been hit by terrorists. Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the security threat on Wednesday while meeting with athletes at the Olympic Village.

He recalled last year's Boston Marathon bombings and the 2005 bombings in London which took place at the same time as the G8 summit in Scotland. And as if to underscore the point that Russia is supposedly no more dangerous than any other major city in the world, Russia's deputy prime minister, well, he pretty much came out and said the exact same thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DMITRY KOZAK, RUSSIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I would like to repeat once again that the level of security in Sochi is not worse than New York, London, Washington, or Boston.


TAPPER: All right, Russia, we get it. Other places in the world are vulnerable to the threat of terrorism, but here's the thing. Here's what makes Sochi different, the active war zone just a car ride away. It's got a breeding ground for insurgents and terrorists in Dagestan, in Chechnya, right in the backyard.

Just yesterday, Russian state media reported that the suspected mastermind of December's bomb attacks in Volgograd was tracked down in Dagestan and killed in a shoot-out with police. And two Chechen women with reported ties to terrorist organizations were arrested this week in France, although there's been no evidence that the women had any plans to travel to Sochi.

Russian intelligence agents say they are chasing any chatter that seems to be tied to a group that has vowed to disrupt the Olympic Games. But let's be honest, it's hard to just take Russian leaders at their word that they have left no stone unturned when it comes to Olympic preparations, especially seeing as how many visitors are arriving in the city only to find that their hotel rooms look like the before picture on an HDTV show.

How dangerous is Sochi?

And joining me now is Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. She's the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator Feinstein, good to see you.

We're told that intelligence agencies are aware of other credible threats beyond the toothpaste threat. You have read the intelligence. What are you hearing?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I have read the intelligence. I think the threat stream is credible. I think it's real.

I think the Russians are very good at what they do, though. I think there's a blanket of security. The problem is that the group -- one of the groups figured, the Imirat Kavkaz, which has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States, has made threats, and is conceivably able of carrying out an attack.

So you have to be careful. I think that the Russians have security forces. They have good intelligence. They know the Chechen area, the Dagestan area, the problems inherent in it, and the brutality of these groups in the way they will hit soft targets.

So I think people going to the Olympics should be careful. I think they should watch their backs. I think they should stay out of crowds, if they can. And that's just my personal advice. TAPPER: If you had family members asking you if they thought it was worth it, what would you tell them? We have heard different things.


TAPPER: President Obama told me, if people want to go to the Olympics, they should go to the Olympics. But your colleague from the House Congressman Peter King yesterday told Wolf Blitzer that it's not worth the risk. Let me play that bite.



REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I would not go myself. If I were an athlete, that's one thing. But just as a spectator, I don't think it's worth the risk.


TAPPER: What do you think?

FEINSTEIN: Well, if I had a son or a daughter performing in the Olympics, I would go. Now that I don't, I probably would not.

Now, again, I have seen the threat stream. And I know the opposition. And the opposition is dogged. It's continuing. It's threatening. And, hopefully, arrests can be made and any attack can be stopped.

TAPPER: And just to be clear, these insurgent groups or terrorist groups, these are from the Caucasus, these not al Qaeda?

FEINSTEIN: Well, they may have an al Qaeda connection. I can't speak to that. I think there's more than one. The one I'm thinking of is from the Caucasus.

TAPPER: There was an arrest -- there were arrests in Austria and France of what are called black widows. These the widows of insurgents who have been killed in this fight.

Some of the arrests, some of those women have now been reportedly released. Do you have any information about that?


TAPPER: Was it bad intelligence or...

FEINSTEIN: No. And I'm not going to comment on any arrests.


FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: In terms of the actual threat, we heard yesterday that airlines were being warned by the Department of Homeland Security especially to be on the lookout for explosives that might be concealed in a toothpaste tube.

Are there any other things -- you said to avoid crowds, to watch your back. Are there any other things that the public should be aware of?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think where you go and what you do is important.

I think you will see Russian security. It's not a bad idea to stand by where you can be protected. I have no doubt that there are tens and thousands of security people at Sochi, that the ramps and tracks for luge and bobsled are fenced off so people can't get into them.

You begin to worry about the soft targets, buses, taxis, hotels, that kind of thing. But this is the world we live in now. And it's just terrible that it's come to the Olympics. And I just hope things go well. I know our FBI has been cooperating with the Russians, and I understand have had a positive relationship. And I think that's all to the good.

TAPPER: I have been hearing about cooperation. It's improving to a degree, although I'm told the Russians are still not sharing that much when it comes to threats inside their own country.

What -- are you confident about the degree of preparation that's been made by U.S. authorities when it comes to being nearby in case something bad does happen, being able to take Americans to safety, being able to rescue Olympic athletes and their families, if need be?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I have not been briefed on that part, so I can't answer that part. But I can tell you, historically, we have always been very good in retrieving our people, in being able to get them out of very tough situations.

I can remember times as far back as 1968, when there's a big "manifestacion" in Paris and my family happened to be there. Our airline, which happened to have been American airline, got us out. And so if you travel American, I think it does have a benefit.

TAPPER: Putin, when asked about safety and security of the Olympics, said that he thought it was as safe as -- and he named a bunch of places that had been hit by terrorists, including Boston, London, New York.

Obviously, as you note, this is the world we live in now. But it has also been pointed out this is the first time that an Olympics is being held on the edge of an active war zone, essentially, in terms of the fight going on in the Caucasus.

In retrospect -- well, let's forward. Would it be better for future Olympics not to be so close to this kind of insurgency? And, in retrospect, was it a mistake to have the Olympics in Sochi?

FEINSTEIN: Well, that's a very difficult question. I'm not going to say it was mistake. Things may go very well. I'm just not going to say that.

And I think the country is trying very hard to do what has to be done. The question is to know what has to be done. And that's based on intelligence, which is sometimes good and sometimes not so good. But I think they have to take the threat stream very credibly. And it is being taken credibly.

Now, more than that, I don't know what I can tell you about it.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it. And, of course, we're all hoping for the best.

FEINSTEIN: Absolutely. Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD, we're going to stick with the world lead. Senator Feinstein just said the safest place in Sochi might be next to a Russian security guard, but what are the most vulnerable spots in Sochi? We will take you there next.

And later in the pop culture lead, Jay Leno walks off the set of the "Tonight Show" set again. Where will he go next?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to stick with our world lead about security at the Sochi Olympics. Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted a -- quote -- "ring of steel" will be in place to keep the Olympic Games safe. But just what does a ring of steel mean? What does it mean if you find yourself outside the protective bubble, for example?

Joining me now in the virtual studio are CNN correspondent Tom Foreman and Peter Brookes. He's a senior fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.

Tom, show us what this ring of steel refers to.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what it really means, Jake, is that, in a great big country like Russia, not everything can be guarded exactly the same.

This is a massive country. Yes, you can have this ring of steel over here, where you can say you have got a tremendous amount of security inside that zone. And the tighter you get to the middle, there may actually be more security.

Peter, explain what we're talking about.

PETER BROOKES, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, tomorrow night, the opening ceremony starts. That's going to have -- it's the biggest target from the terrorist perspective and it's going to have the highest security. They're going to want to completely make sure nobody gets inside that building that can undertake a terrorist attack

You're going to need a passport, you're going to need -- you're going to need the x-rays, there's going to be pat-downs, bag checks, dogs, everything. This is the last thing they want is to have something happen at the opening ceremony when everyone is watching.

FOREMAN: Huge target, obviously. Look at some of the numbers here. If you look at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, 40,000 spectators will be inside. Athletes from 88 countries, about 2 billion people in the worldwide audience.

But because of what Peter said, overall this zone will be called a green zone because it will be probably one of the safest things out there because it can be guarded. It's relatively limited.

But now, let's widen this out a little bit, Peter, to what is inside this "Ring of Steel" here. Look at Sochi overall. This is a population of over 400,000 people in this, 213,000 tourists, 98 events over 11 different venues.

If we look at the same chart, the big target, there is high security but this is a tougher job.

BROOKES: Well, think about it, Tom, guarding a building is much easier than guarding a city. You're talking about 700,000 people walking around Sochi. You know, hotels, restaurants, markets, Olympic venues.

Of course, one in seven of those people are probably going to be security officers. Russia has 100,000 security officers there, but much more difficult for the Russians.

FOREMAN: Invariably there will be weak points in that city, so we're going to make this more or less a green zone because it's in the very highly guarded area but not as quite as protected as the opening ceremony.

And now, Peter, when we go to the bigger picture of Russia overall, this becomes very different. Think about this -- this is a country, population of 143 million people, 53,000 miles of train track in Russia and more than 60 airports, bus stations, hospitals, public buildings, homes -- a tremendous number of places out there that terrorists could strike.

BROOKES: Absolutely. It wouldn't be as good as striking at the Olympics. But Russia is a huge country, nine time zones we're talking about. And they've struck transportation hubs in the past. You know, we had the attack in Volgograd in December. There's a threat against airliners coming to Moscow right now from toothpaste tubes.

So, this is something they'll be looking at as well because it's going to be so hard to attack something like the opening ceremonies.

FOREMAN: So, it's fair and sensible for us to say that is the biggest red zone out there, the idea that you could have people walking into and out of the area when they are not in as much of a protected zone.

You see what's happening here, Jake -- in the sense, the people who are tightest to the middle of the Olympic Games may very well be the safest.


FOREMAN: And getting there and going home after ward, that may be the biggest challenge.

TAPPER: That's right. They're soft targets.

Tom Foreman, Peter Brookes, thank you so much for joining us.

There may be concerns about whether Russia has its ducks in a row from a security standpoint, but there's no denying that if any group would to dare try and embarrass the country on the grandest of the international stages, the reaction from the Kremlin would be swift and it would be fierce.

CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is live in Sochi with more on that.

Nick, might the country's reputation for retaliation actually help to thwart a possible attack?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) Jake, some may argue that that heavy hand is what has created this extraordinary radical militancy that it faces right now. But certainly in the ghastly event that there are some sort of attack here, people are concerned exactly where the Kremlin response would lie. Will it be the kind of discipline, efficient and often heartless behavior we've seen from the KGB veterans that run much of Moscow now, or is it going to be a kind of plague by the kind of corruption and efficiency that dogs a lot of law enforcement across Russia?


WALSH: This is all a drill. While the helicopters are for Putin, but in Russia's south, you can be sure that if there is an attack, the Kremlin will respond as only it knows how -- hard.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): The job of the Olympic host is to ensure security of the participants in the Olympics and visitors. We will do whatever it takes.

WALSH: What will that mean? Watch for three things. The no prisoner response to the Nord-Ost hostage crisis in 2002 came after Vladimir Putin when talks failed ordered the use of a knock-out gas against militants who had hundreds of Muscovites surrounded with explosives.

The fast, brutal move killed the militants but also about 130 hostages, many through the gas itself but showed the Kremlin head is unafraid and decisive.

Two years later, militants took over a school and Moscow stood back and when the siege began 50 hours later, sent a small number of special forces. It was chaotic and bloody. Dozens of children died.

Locals felt abandoned by the Kremlin and now if there's an attack far away from the games elsewhere in impoverished Russia. If it happens, expect not to see much of it. Russia regulates press coverage heavily, particularly where the militant activity in the south and will be infuriated by attack on or near the games. Then, of course, there may be U.S. criticism of Russian intel sharing. Like after the Boston bombings when Russian cooperation was still panned by some U.S. officials.

Given this uncertainty, U.S. officials will hope for calm but wonder which response they will get if the worse does happen.

ARIEL COHEN, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: There's so much mistrust and the tone of the relationship is rather negative that it may affect the cooperation or other lack of cooperation.


WALSH: There's a real different picture, though, on the ground here. All of this talk of airliner and toothpaste tubes, we're dealing with a part of Russia that has had a very active, volatile insurgency, a police force that's not been able to put that in check for a decade now.

So, the real threat on the ground is about those explosives put in place a long time ago and, most importantly, those soft targets around this vast region which, frankly, there are not enough police in Russia to protect at all and it's the ordinary Russians that will breathe a sigh of relief if the Olympics pass without anybody being hurt -- Jake.

WALSH: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

Coming up next on THE LEAD: the strange licorice odor is back nearly a month after that chemical spill tainted the water supply in one city. And this time, the chemical is affecting elementary school children.

Plus, she thought was making a healthy choice by picking Subway over other fast food restaurants, until she discovered their bread recipe included a type of plastic additive found in yoga mats. And now, Subway is responding.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now, it's time for "The National Lead."

If you live in the Northeast, there's a good chance you could be watching THE LEAD right now by candle light on your iPhone. Though the storm that's swift to the region earlier this week has cleared out, nearly 580,000 people are still without power.

The bulk of the outages are in the Philadelphia area where crews are scrambling to repair downed power lines and others blanketed in ice. Over 430,000 customers are still sitting in the cold in Philly, according to electricity provider PECO's Web site. The utility company says some won't see the lights come back on until the weekend.

In other national news, the CDC says you can drink it, but some West Virginia schools kept their kids at home by smelling that by now all too familiar licorice odor in the water. Students at Riverside High School and Midland Trial Elementary were dismissed early Wednesday when one student and a teacher went to the hospital after fainting and complaining that their eyes were burning. Problems began when a water main break in the area forced schools to flush its pipes.

This is just the latest episode in the ongoing fallout from a January 9th chemical spill that forced much of the state to turn off the taps for days. The company responsible for the leak, freedom industries, poured as much as 7,500 gallons of coal processing chemicals into the Elk River and is now under criminal investigation.

While federal health officials certified the state's water is safe for all uses on Wednesday, CNN's own test showed trace amounts of the chemical MCHM still in the tap water.

A murder trial under way in Jacksonville, Florida, is drawing comparisons to the Trayvon Martin case. Forty-seven-year-old Michael Dunn is charged in death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Prosecutors said the two got into an argument over loud music outside the convenience store in 2012. Dunn claimed he heard threats and saw a gun, and then grabbed his own gun and started shooting into the SUV, claiming self-defense. But police say they never found a gun in Davis' vehicle.

The case has some similarities to the Trayvon Martin case. The victim was an unarmed African-American teen. It happened in Florida, and two members of the prosecution were involved in George Zimmerman's murder trial last year.

Coming up next, the speaker of the House now saying he doubts immigration reform will happen and he's putting the blame squarely on, guess who, President Obama.

Plus, it's a television rarity going out on top. A look back at Jay Leno's late-night rise as he passes "The Tonight Show" torch.