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Olympic Opening Ceremonies Begin; Olympic Hijacking Scare; Jobs Report A Mixed Bag; Is LaGuardia "Third World"?

Aired February 7, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A scare in the skies as they light the torch at Sochi.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. He claimed to have a bomb and he wanted to land at the site of the Winter Games. F-16s scrambled to intercept a flight that reported a hijacking as the Olympics get under way

The national lead, it's funny, because it's true. Vice President Biden cracks a joke about the bane of American airports, comparing La Guardia to a Third World country. Are we really that far behind?

And the pop culture lead. He was billed as Japan's Beethoven. A beloved, brilliant, deaf composer turns out to be neither deaf nor brilliant. How did he fake it for nearly two decades?

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

We will begin with some breaking news on the world lead. Amid growing terrorism concerns, complaints about shoddy hotel rooms, accusations of stray dog poisonings and photographs of bathrooms with shared toilet space, the opening ceremony for the Winter Games could have been the dangling shiny set of keys that Russian leaders needed to divert our attention back to, you know, the actual Olympic competition.

But not long after the ceremony began, we were reminded of the ongoing security threat that has overshadowed the Sochi Games, particularly in recent weeks. Officials in Turkey say a passenger on board a Pegasus Airline flight en route from the Ukraine claimed there was a bomb in the baggage hold and he demanded that plane land in Sochi.

The pilot managed to send out a hijacking signal and the Turkish government scrambled F-16 fighter jets to divert the plane to Istanbul, where it landed safely; 110 passengers were on board. This photograph was taken from inside the plane. It's said to show the hijacking suspect taken into custody, although CNN has not yet been able to independently confirm that.

What is still unclear is whether this individual has any ties to extremist or he's just some guy who decided on his own to cause chaos on a flight.

Let's go live now to CNN's senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, who is live in Sochi.

Ivan, good to see you. What have we learned so far about the suspect?


He's been subdued, Turkish government officials say. They say there was no bomb aboard the plane, that none of the passengers or crew were injured, but they do say that Turkish security forces did have to use force to subdue this Ukrainian national, the suspected hijacker. He said -- this is the Istanbul governor -- that no guns were used against the suspected hijacker, but that security forces did have to use force and that the Ukrainian did sustain some light injuries.

The plane has been evacuated. Everybody has successfully left the plane after it was on a tarmac at an airport in Istanbul for some time being searched. All of the drama played out, the scrambling of Turkish F-16 warplanes and this passengers ordering the crew to divert the plane here to Sochi, after the opening ceremonies began behind me in Russia's Fisht Stadium.

This all took place while the opening ceremonies, the lavish opening ceremonies were under way, but the Turks were able to bring that plane down on its previously scheduled itinerary in Istanbul. And I guess we can say that this drama, this suspected hijacking has successfully been foiled without anybody except the suspected hijacker being hurt. We're still waiting to find out what the possible motives would have been for this attempted hijacking -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson, thank you so much.

I want to turn now to Juan Zarate, who was White House deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism from 2005 to 2009, and he's a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's also the author of "Treasuries War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare."

Juan, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.


TAPPER: Hearing the details of this attempted hijacking, what do you make of this? Does it look like an organized effort to you?

ZARATE: Not really.

It looks like perhaps an individual who wanted to create some chaos, perhaps disturbed. You see this on occasion, especially around events where this is highly scrutiny and attention. And so this guy may be deranged, may be trying to get attention.

Keep in mind people are concerned about airplane traffic and security because these terrorists in particular from the Caucasus have demonstrated an ability to target airplanes in the past. And that's why there is so much sensitivity. They have brought down Russian airlines twice before in 2004. People are concerned about this, but this doesn't look like to be an organized attempt.

TAPPER: Now, you served the White House in the key national security role for the previous administration. Caitlin Hayden, the spokesperson of the National Security Council now, released a statement saying -- quote -- "We're monitoring the situation and we have been in touch with the Turkish government."

They say the president has been informed. Take us inside what it is like in the White House right now. They're obviously -- the president and Secretary Kerry when I asked both them of fairly candid about the fact that they are not reassuring nothing is going to happen. They say, we're not discouraging anyone from going, but you should take precautions.

Yesterday, the Senate Committee Intelligence chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, said to me that people should watch their back. What is it like in the White House right now, do you think?

ZARATE: They are watching this threat like they watch others.

Three times a day, the intelligence committee is getting together and looking at all of the threat streams. At the top of the list now is Sochi. This has to be the most dangerous Olympics since 9/11, given the environment, given the intent of these terrorists to target it.

The White House is watching this. The president gets his daily brief. No doubt Sochi threats are a part of that. He's also talking to his national security team at least once a week looking at this. Keep in mind, Jake, we have got two months of security that the Russians have to worry about, not just the Olympics, but also the Paralympics in March.

And so we're going to be on edge for a while making sure that nothing happens to American citizens or athletes.

TAPPER: In addition to the relative candor that we have heard from world leaders and President Obama, Secretary Kerry, Dianne Feinstein, we also have had alerts come out, the Department of Homeland Security putting out this alert to airlines when it comes to possible explosives in toothpaste tubes. Why is that done?

ZARATE: Well, it's done because there's a general sense of threat. The environment is difficult. It's dangerous. You have terrorists potentially targeting the Olympics.

You also have threads of information that may be coming out from sources, from ways that we collect information, a lot of this now out given what Edward Snowden has done. And so authorities have seen something that bothers them, seen some information that seems to suggest that terrorists may be thinking about assembling explosives on an airplane. That's why you had the precautionary note go out to airlines and now the ban on liquids, gels, aerosols headed into Russia.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about another interesting incident that happened. There was this phone conversation between Victoria Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, and the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine. And it was posted online yesterday. Let's play that. All right. We don't have the tape.

But, in any case, Nuland says, F. the E.U. And it's clearly her and this diplomat talking about Ukrainian affairs. Nuland described it as impressive tradecraft that this was able to get out and the recording was so clear. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney noted that it first or at least early pushed out by the Russian government. They are not saying that the Russians did this, but they certainly seem to be leaning into it.

ZARATE: Right.

You got to keep in mind two things. One, the Russians spy on our diplomats. I think that's known for years, of course, during the Soviet years and certainly now. They listen to what we are saying and the diplomats know that. Secondly, we're at a period of heightened tension between the U.S. and Russia.

You have not just the Snowden issue, but issues related to Syria, tensions with respect to the Ukraine and Georgia. And so we're at a period of mistrust. And you see these kinds of leaks happen in part not only because the Russians listen to us, but because they can see an advantage to it. And that's what has happened. It's rather picayune and pedestrian, but, unfortunately, it's par for the course.

TAPPER: Juan Zarate, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

ZARATE: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Today's hijacking scare had no impact on the spectacle going on 1,000 miles away in Sochi. The opening ceremony which began about five hours ago at exactly 8:14 p.m. local time featured an ode to Russia past and present. There were elaborate dance numbers and floating heads and the parade of champions.

In case you are wondering why it cost a record-setting $50 billion for Russia to host these Games, perhaps you have underestimated the technology and talent it takes to put a giant cheetah, bear and rabbit on ice skates. That can be pricey in Sochi.

And as if not to disappoint all you tweeps anxious to use #Sochiproblems, there was this much-talked about ceremony fail when one very stubborn giant snowflake never made its full metamorphosis into an Olympic ring.

Let's go live now to CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, who is live in Sochi.

Nick, a few minor glitches, but overall it seems a ceremony the Russians can boast about.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think certainly it made complete sense to many Russians watching, although I think a lot of the cultural references put out there would have been lost on some of the Western audiences, too.

You mentioned, of course, the enormous stuffed animal mascots roaming across the ice. That surely will have appeared to Western people, but they may be slightly less able to make something out of the scene depicting the establishing of Saint Petersburg by Peter I, of course the hometown of Putin himself.

Remarkable scenes. Particularly, I think people didn't realize quite what the $51 billion price tag bought when we saw the fireworks display here, quite remarkable, lasting for a good 20 minutes, lighting up the sky behind, and certainly I think the grandeur which people have been expecting and hoping for, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick, there's been a lot of secrecy surrounding who would light the Olympic flame. Some in the media, especially in Europe, suggested that it might be Russian President Vladimir Putin's rumored girlfriend who would light it. But, spoiler alert, Nick, you have the answer who lights it.

WALSH: Well, she was part of the procession there.

She was involved inside the stadium, despite Vladimir Putin earlier on in the week, in fact, the media reports of this didn't even mention Ms. Kabayeva's name at all. They just had him saying his press secretary had mentioned the speculation and it was all nonsense.

But eventually, the cauldron, the Olympic cauldron, the flame which is still burning behind me lit by Vladislav Tretyak and Irina Rodnina, a prominent hockey player and ice skater from Russian Olympic history in the past

But the mere fact that Alina Kabayeva took part in the procession there, that will of course fuel the speculation here, what left there is in the Russian media that dares to comment on Vladimir Putin's personal life. And I should point out he's denied, age 61, any relationship with a much younger gymnast -- Jake. .

TAPPER: Of course. Of course he has. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

WALSH: Of course.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: It's either good news or bad news, depending on who you're listening to -- the reality of the dueling headlines over the latest job numbers next.

Plus, Republican Senator Rand Paul goes after Bill Clinton again for -- quote -- "taking advantage of young women," and now Paul is going even further, challenging Democrats who fund-raise with the former president as well.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. It's time now for our money lead.

The latest jobs report is out and it's raising more questions about whether Americans are recovering from the recession, 113,000 jobs were added in January. That's 65,000 less than economists predicted and far below the average 194,000 jobs added each month in 2013. But the unemployment rate did drop to 6.6 percent, the lowest since October 2008 before President Obama was even elected.

This was the second month in a row with disappointing job figures and after a record-breaking year, stocks have been, well, jittery. Just look at the Dow over the last month. It's down over 4 percent.

So what is the truth here? Is this just the winter blues? The aftermath of the polar vortex or are there real signs of trouble here?

I want to bring in Diane Swonk. She's chief economist and senior managing director for Mesirow Financial.

Diane, good to see you.

So, let's talk about this. Is this a good jobs report or are people worried?

DIANE SWONK, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MESIROW FINANCIAL: Well, it's not a good jobs report but I think there is a bit of a ray of light amidst the clouds, so to speak. And that is that although we had two weak months during this polar vortex and believe me, the survey was taken during the mildest week of the entire month, but we did see an imprint of the weather on that jobs number on the household server where they actually call people up, which is the unemployment rate, which we saw a very large gain in jobs which we don't quite believe either.

But there has been some upward movement in that number in the last four months and the household survey over time if there's a leading indicator out there. It's on the households. So, I want to actually call people and say, hey, are you doing something new out there that we maybe we're not capturing in the establishment, the established firm survey. You might be seeing something there.

I think it's also important that you did see the imprint of the weather. Manufacturing was up but the hours worked were down. Overtime was down. A lot of manufacturers were actually shuttered during this extreme cold weather that we've experienced, places like Chicago. School, state and local, saw education declined sharply after increases in recent months. And state and local governments have been hiring people back but we had never had any kind of closings in Chicago, four days closed because it was just too cold to get to school.

TAPPER: Right.

SWONK: So, really -- you do see a weather imprint here that we hope will dissipate as we get to the spring.

TAPPER: Diane, the unemployment rate is 6.6 percent. How much of that is because people who can't find work just dropping out of the labor force?

SWONK: Well, you know, ironically, in month of January we saw a bit of a rebound in labor participation but let's face it, the labor force participation rate has fallen really dramatically since the onset of the recession. About half of the decline, 3 percent, is due to just demographics, people getting older and retiring out. The other half, though, is people either sort of been in long-term unemployed and not being able to get back into the labor force or really the cyclical factors, and, you know, if we just have a little more job gains out there, they've had jobs.

We also know that many of those people who are unemployed, that lost their unemployment insurance, they're not showing up necessarily as dropping out of the labor force or just getting a job because they had to say they looked for a job in the last four weeks to get their unemployment insurance through December 31st, they were still looking through December 31st. And when they did the survey in mid-January, they would have said they were looking for a job sometime this month.

TAPPER: And, Diane, there's been a lot of talk bank and forth about the CBO report saying that Obamacare would reduce the number of worker hours by the equivalent of 2.5 million full time workers by 2025. Republicans are saying this is creating a disincentive for people to work. Democrats are saying, no, it allows them to have options so they don't have to work well into their old age or stay in crummy jobs just for the insurance.

Who is right or are both of them right?

SWONK: You know, it's -- the CBO report is pretty clear about this. What they said is as the law is written today, which both sides have a problem with and both sides will change, so we will not have the current law when the CBO's projections comes to fruition, first of all. That's important. That's how CBO does it.

The second issue is they said, listen, people who are on the margin, they might work a little less to be able to qualify for subsidies. That's how the incentives work, and it's about 2 1/2 million workers that little over 2 million workers that actually would work less, not necessarily drop out of the labor force but work less. So, you know, it's really not either one is right. The truth is always somewhere in between. But when you're talking about politics, you rarely get the truth.

TAPPER: All right. Diane Swonk, thank you so much for clearing that up for us. We appreciate it.

When we come back, he says it wasn't a joke but the vice president got plenty laughs when he compared LaGuardia to airports in developing countries. But is he right?

Plus, it's a small detail that seems to have been left off his resume, actually stepping foot in the country that he wants to be ambassador of.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Time now for the national lead. Vice President Joe Biden is known for his colorful commentary. I think we've seen enough t-shirts with the letters BFD, to make that point. In a speech on infrastructure, Biden called Hong Kong's airport modern and American -- well, what did he say LaGuardia reminded him of? A third world country. Yikes!

Biden was in Philly when he made these comments. Not sure how he feels about Philadelphia International Airport, but if you're there, stop by chicken pizza or some crab pies.

So, is LaGuardia really that bad?

Our own Tom Foreman takes us around the world and shows us that it could be worse.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): LaGuardia airport handled 27 million passengers last year and any one of them would have, could have, should have complained, according to the vice president.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I took you blindfolded and took you to the LaGuardia Airport in New York, you must think I'm in some third world country. And I'm not joking.

FOREMAN: And some are not laughing, including the new mayor of New York.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK: As a proud New Yorker, I didn't -- I didn't like that comment and I think it was not the right way to talk about it.

FOREMAN: On top of which, the vice president's claim is not precisely true. For example, on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, tourists gather to witness the outrageously low arrivals and departures of jumbo jets. You'll never see this in LaGuardia or any other U.S. airport.

Nor this in tiny Tuvalu, people play sports and lounge on the runway. Nor this in St. Petersburg, Russia, some concourses have been built directly over old roads and tarmacs, leaving bare asphalt under the chairs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was right in the corner, right there.

FOREMAN: Yes, American airports have their problems like the alligator found wandering through Chicago's O'Hare. Yes, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation's airport infrastructure a "D" for being in such poor repair. And yes, even the governor of New York has called LaGuardia --

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: The disgrace.

FOREMAN: But the same as an airport in a developing nation? Hardly. Still, even with the multibillion dollar makeover on the way, LaGuardia will remain far from the best. That honor goes to this jam in Singapore where travelers can enjoy a swimming pool, a giant slide -- movies, and even a butterfly garden. Now, that's the way to take off.


TAPPER: Very fancy. Tom is here with us.

Tom, we're midland when it comes to airports, obviously. But how are we and other infrastructure needs like highways and bridges? Obviously, some engineers are concerned in terms of safety issues for the --

FOREMAN: Yes, compared to the midland, the good news is we're lousy. The truth is, we have a lot of problems out there. The American Society of Civil Engineers has looked at this numerous times, in many ways, to come out with a report card every few years, and it continues to be very, very bad.

For example, if you talk about dams in this country, there are 84,000 dams. The average age is 52 years old.

TAPPER: Fifty-two years old?

FOREMAN: Fifty-two years old. Four thousand of them are considered to be in really sufficiently -- a very deficient state right now, presenting major hazards out there and to fix them would be $21 billion, and that's not counting the $100 billion to repair levees all over the country.

TAPPER: OK. But why aren't federal, state, and local governments ponying up? These are obviously, if you have bad dams, bad bridges, as we saw in Minnesota and California, you get last year. Why aren't they ponying up and trying to pay for these infrastructures? There would be jobs, too.

FOREMAN: Well, yes, there'd be jobs. Of course, there'd be jobs involved. But here's part of the thing. It's the numbers I cited. Everybody is hurting for money. Everybody is hurt for money. They don't want to spend the money and more importantly, here's the thing, when you spend this kind of money, you're going to have to demand money from other people, from taxpayers to pay for it.

Nobody wants to do that right now and most of these are big projects. They won't reach in until four or six, 10 years on (INAUDIBLE). Some of these guys are going to be out of office. They don't get credit for it.

TAPPER: They won't get credit. They won't be at the ribbon cutting. Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

That wasn't the only thing Biden said. Of course, he also talked to my colleague Kate Bolduan about his political future and we'll hash out his news about 2016 with our political panel later in the show. It's not exactly news that many ambassadorships sometimes go to big donors. Some of these folks are, of course, just fine with their jobs. When it comes to political appointees, look at Michael McFaul in Russia, for example. But then, some of these political appointees may not be qualified.

This week, the president's nominee to be ambassador to Argentina Noah Bryson Mamet, who just happens to have raised the half billion dollars for President Obama and the Democrats, well, he testified before Congress and got tripped up on what you might think would not be too difficult to question if he'd ever been to Argentina.


NOAH BRYSON MAMET, NOMINEE, U.S. AMB. TO ARGENTINA: I haven't had the opportunity yet to be there. I've traveled pretty extensively around the world but I have not yet had a chance.


TAPPER: Last month, the president picked to be ambassador to Norway, George Tsunis, who with his wife raised more than half a million dollars for the president's re-election bid, coincidentally, referenced Norway's president, even though the country has a prime minister not a president. And he said that the government of Norway had denounced the French party, though, of course, that French party is actually part of the coalition government.

There are other examples but you get the point.

The State Department responded by saying you can't judge someone until they've lived in the country and done the job. But this was the president in January 2009, introducing his national security team.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no disagreement that we need to create --


TAPPER: "I want to recruit young people into the State Department to feel that this is a career track that they can be on for a long term. And so, you know, my expectation is that high quality civil servants are going to be rewarded," he said.