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Missing Flight 370; Details About Tickets and Stolen Passports; Conspiracies Run Amok?; Frustration Grows for Families of Missing; Americans Polled on Russia

Aired March 10, 2014 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Anderson Cooper, and this is CNN.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for watching, everyone. My colleague, Wolf, starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, more than 70 aircrafts and ships from 10 different countries, they are all searching for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Meantime, there are now new details on the two men on board traveling with stolen passports. We're covering this story as only CNN can.

Also, right now, in Crimea, the military buildup continues. Pro- Russian convoys are moving through the streets. Some residents say troops are planting land mines.

And right now, the NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, is just wrapping up remarks to a group at the South by Southwest festival. His audience of thousands was in Austin, Texas. Snowden spoke by teleconference from Moscow. We're going to tell you what he said.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from the CNN Center. We begin with the mystery that has baffled airline officials and investigators now for three days. What happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? A desperate search has turned up no sign of the plane.

Here's what we do know right now. Officials say two passengers traveling on stolen passports bought their tickets together. They say the two do not appear to be Asian as some previous reports indicated. The use of stolen passports is raising serious concerns about the possibility of terrorism but investigators say it's too early to draw any conclusions.

An oil click spotted in the search area turned out to be a false lead. It was the kind of oil used in large cargo ships, not aircraft oil. And the search area has now been expanded to include a larger portion of the Gulf of Thailand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're getting some breaking news. We're learning new details about where the tickets connected to the stolen passports were purchased, potentially the identity of those who purchased them.

Nic Robertson is joining us from London. Nic, tell us what you're learning.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Thai police have talked to the travel agency in the beach resort town in Thailand of Pattaya. They say that the travel agency told them that the man that purchased the tickets from them made the phone call to them requesting the tickets for two friends, is how he said, is a man known to this travel agency for several years, an Iranian they say, that's how they describe him. Mr. Kazem Ali is the name that the police say the travel agency has given him.

They say that he called up the travel agency on the first 1st of March, saying get me the cheapest tickets back to Europe for my two friends. A few days later, he didn't collect on those tickets. On Thursday, that was the Thursday before the Saturday where the -- where -- when the plane took off for Beijing. Just two days before, Mr. Kazem Ali, called, again, to this travel agency. He said, book my -- book my two friends on the cheapest flights to Europe. And they booked them from Beijing -- from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing to Amsterdam. Then the one on the Italian stolen passport to Copenhagen. The one on the Austrian stolen passport to Frankfurt.

Now, what we're also learning from this travel agency and from the police is that Mr. Kazem Ali regularly bought tickets in this way for people from this travel agency. And, in this case, the tickets were paid for in cash. It certainly gives the appearance here of somebody who is established in buying tickets, possibly some kind of network of some kind. Again, criminal or whatever. And that's not clear, Wolf. But those are the latest details we have.

BLITZER: I assume authorities in Malaysia, they're speaking to this individual, Kazem Ali, right?

ROBERTSON: That's not clear, at the moment. And certain -- the travel agency believed that Kazem Ali had lived in Thailand for a couple of years. That's how they came to know him. He was a regular customer. But they say that they believed that he'd moved back to Iran, perhaps as much as a year ago. And he had contacted them on the telephone to book these particular tickets.

BLITZER: OK.

ROBERTSON: And it's not clear if he showed up himself in person or an associate turned up with the cash to get the tickets -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But the travel agency got the two tickets paid for in cash. Somebody showed up there, but it's not clear if this individual, Kazem Ali, was the person who did so or if he made the phone call -- if he just made a phone call saying get ready to sell these two tickets.

ROBERTSON: Yes, that's what we are getting so far. But, again, because there's a history with Mr. Kazem Ali buying tickets from this travel agency, that will obviously give investigators some useful information to go on, but perhaps gives an idea about the nature of whether or not -- and there has been a lot of speculation and absolutely nothing confirmed, about whether or not this could have been for terrorism or criminality or precisely -- or precisely what.

And we don't know about the other tickets that Kazem Ali has bought in the past. That they also had been for forged or stolen passports, that's not -- that's not clear. But it does indicate a history of activity like this, again, that for investigators will be very useful, assuming the travel agency can actually connect investigators with Mr. Kazem Ali, if he's available, wherever he is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Wherever he may be. Nic Robertson in London, thanks very much.

So, let's discuss what we just heard. Joining us, our CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Tom Fuentes. Tom, what do you make of this new piece of information we're now getting from Nic?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Hi, Wolf. Well, that provides great leads for the investigators to follow up on, particularly in Thailand. The passports were originally stolen in 2012 and the second one in 2013 in Phuket, Thailand which is a resort town.

And now, you have the tickets actually being fraudulently obtained by using the stolen passports in Thailand also. And passports were paid -- or the tickets were paid for in Thai currency, the Thai baht. So, it will be a great lead to try to locate this individual who has been dealing with the agency -- that travel agency and an intensive investigation of that agency themselves. Are they providing stolen passports on a regular basis to a variety of customers for many different reasons which could be unrelated to terrorism but strictly just passport fraud, people using it for drug trafficking or organized crime or any of a number of reasons that could be possibly why they were used?

BLITZER: And the fact that this individual that Nic describes, Mr. Kazem Ali, is Iranian, that may or may not have anything to do with terrorism. It could be drug smuggling. It could be all sorts of other potential criminal it activities that may have been involved.

FUENTES: Well, that's true. And also, I'm not sure how they verified that he's Iranian or how they know his true identity or true nationality, so I would like to see the additional facts concerning that. You know, so -- because there has been reporting, on a number of occasions this weekend, that turned out to not necessarily be accurate. But, you know, that would be necessary to confirm that. But obviously a great lead to cover in Thailand at that travel agency, in that city.

BLITZER: So, how is it possible, in this day and age, where Interpol has a record of all stolen passports, that two passports were clearly stolen, an Austrian passport, an Italian passport? One stolen in 2012, one in 2013, stolen, as you point out, in Thailand in this resort town. How is it possible that those stolen passports with those numbers can be approved to board an international flight when he could easily check with Interpol to get a record of stolen passports? FUENTES: That's true. They could easily check with Interpol but didn't. And most countries don't before --

BLITZER: Why not?

FUENTES: -- passengers are outbound. Well, that's -- that would have to be a question for the Malaysia authorities because they just haven't had the will to do it. This is something -- Ron Noble, Secretary General of Interpol, has been pushing this every year. He pushed it, again, this year in Carta Haina at the annual general assembly I attended, saying, look, to the member countries, the 190- member countries, very few of you are checking this database before people are allowed to board aircraft for international flights and leave your country. And it just has not motivated the majority of countries to set up a system, especially for the outbound passengers.

Now, on the inbound, where you come in and actually physically go through passport control, those are more often checked, and many of those passport computers or passport control computers, are set up to automatically make an inquiry, not just in the individual country's databases, but to Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France, for whether or not the document is stolen or whether the name used on that document, there has been an arrest warrant, the red notice, issued.

So, it's more common on the incoming flights but not as common on the outgoing. And this is something Interpol -- back when I was on the executive committee of Interpol from 2006 to 2009, this came up every year. It's been pushed every single year. But the majority of countries still do not make that inquiry and do that check.

BLITZER: Does the United States make that inquiry?

FUENTES: Well, my understanding is that customs of border protection does do inquiries on -- you know, on the flight list of people that are going to be outbound from the United States, including all the queries of the various U.S. watch lists and terror screening lists as well. But many of the countries are not doing that. And, in fact, those numbers are huge. It's 1 billion, with a B, passengers annually board aircraft on international flights where the documents have not been checked through the database.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, thanks very much.

We're going to continue to monitor this mystery. There's a lot more coming up just ahead. This search intensifying for flight 370. It seems everyone has a theory about what happened. We're going to tell you which ones are getting the most attention.

And the Russians say they haven't invaded Ukraine but our team is on the ground and says the land grab is underway right now.

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BLITZER: For families who have people on board the flight, the wait for news is heart breaking. And the biggest complaint so far is that they aren't getting enough information. David McKenzie is joining us from Beijing right now. David, we're hearing reports the frustration is boiling over into anger, family members even throwing water bottles at officials. Have you been able to get a sense from the families what they're feeling, what they're saying, what they believe?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at first, it was shock, of course, then frustration and anger. Yes, it is, at times, boiling over because people just don't have any closure in this issue. From the very early hours when this plane disappeared, up until now, we're talking hours and now days. They're complaining they're not getting enough information from the airlines, from the government, even pointing the finger at the Chinese government which in China can be a big deal. They were tonight shipped off in buses, some of them. The airline says they're going to take the closest family members and fly them to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The problem is, normally in these cases, Wolf, they go to a location close to the crash site. They don't know where that crash site is. So many of the families telling us that they're going to stay put here until they know more.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Most of the passengers on that plane were Chinese or Taiwanese. And clearly they're distraught right now. This -- these two stolen passports that were used by two of the passengers to board the flight, what are folks in Beijing saying about that? Do they believe this was some sort of security lapse?

MCKENZIE: At this stage, they don't really speak about how this happened and why this happened. They just want to know what happened? What happened to their family members. If you can consider that the authorities are still saying this is a search and rescue effort, not a recovery effort, they are still holding out hope. One counselor I spoke to said that's the hardest thing, Wolf, that as these hours slip by, human nature is, you just kind of believe there might be some tiny hope that your loved one is alive out there somewhere. Until they have that closure, they are in this limbo, this terrible limo, hours of agonizing waiting. So they're not even thinking about the why right now, they just want to know what happened to that plane.

BLITZER: Yes, our heart goes out to all of those folks over there in Beijing and elsewhere. Thanks very much, David McKenzie, for that report.

The head of Malaysia's civil aviation says the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is, quote, "an unprecedented mystery." Dozens of aircraft and ships, they are now combing the South China Sea and beyond for any sign of the missing Boeing 777 in the absence of good leads or solid evidence. Conspiracy theories already are out there and they're filling the void. Our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, is joining us from Washington.

Peter, we've seen these theories pop up before in other aviation disasters. How do these square with reality once the facts are actually known? PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, often, they don't, Wolf, of course. I mean you recall TWA 800, which fell out of the sky in the Atlanta shortly after leaving JFK Airport. You know, a number of people said that they saw missiles going up hitting the plane. They turned out to be unreliable eyewitnesses. Pierre Salinger, who, of course, was JFK's press secretary, actually had a press conference in which he said that a Navy ship had brought down TWA 800 and because of his position, you know, some people took that seriously. And then after the longest investigation that the National Transportation Safety Board has ever done, after four years, they concluded that it was a spark in the central fuel tank that had caused the explosion.

And we've seen this also in cases like Egypt Air, where the NTSB came to the conclusion that the plane had been brought down in the Atlantic by a pilot, intentionally, which is something you can't discount. It's very unusual.

In Pan Am 103, some people (INAUDIBLE) that it was a CIA operation that had blown up Pan Am 103 over Scotland. Of course, there was absolutely no evidence of that at all. But, you know, people -- it's a natural human tendency when something catastrophic happens, often people seek some kind of explanation, more than just the mundane explanation that usually turns out to be the case.

BLITZER: And what does it say to you -- and it may mean nothing at all - that the - and we just heard Nic Robertson report it at the top of the hour that the individual who actually bought these two tickets for these two passengers with the stolen passports was an Iranian individual, bought the tickets with cash in Thailand for some reason and then these passengers got on that plane. What, if anything, should that mean? You've studied terrorism, obviously, throughout your entire career.

BERGEN: Well, the Iranian connection, if it's true, is pretty interesting. Certainly Iran has engaged in terrorist activities in Thailand in the past. But then the question you ask yourself is, why would they do this? I mean the victims here, this was not a western airline. It wasn't an American airline. You know, it kind of -- if this is terrorism, the key question would be, who benefits? And the groups that might be inclined to attack the Chinese - a Chinese target, for instance, Chinese separatist groups, have shown little or no ability to operate outside China. Certainly nothing on the scale of bringing down an airplane. So, you know, terrorism cannot be ruled out. But the bottom line is, why this plane and why these victims, if this was really an act of terrorism?

BLITZER: Yes. There's a lot -- those are excellent questions. And, obviously, this investigation is only just beginning right now. Peter, thanks very much.

And Peter wrote an excellent article on cnn.com if you want to read it. He posted it a little while ago.

Still ahead, if terrorists did bring down Flight 370, why aren't they talking about it? The silence could be a clue of a larger plot at least one expert is suggesting. But first, Americans are speaking out on Russia and Ukraine. Do they want to put U.S. troops on the ground to force Russia out? We have the results of our brand-new CNN poll. That's coming up.

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BLITZER: The crisis in Ukraine keeps growing by the hour. Masked men have taken control of a military base in the Crimean peninsula, while Russia is accusing far right groups of conniving with the new authorities running Ukraine.

And we are also learning that Russia troops may already be grabbing land belonging to Ukraine. The new Ukrainian prime minister is due at the White House for talks with President Obama on Wednesday.

The crisis in Ukraine also weighing heavily on the White House, but what can the United States and the western allies do to stop Russia's advance? We're learning that Americans think -- what Americans think should be done in our brand-new CNN poll. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is joining us now.

Gloria, let's take a look at the poll results. We asked how President Obama was handling the situation in the Ukraine, 48 percent approve, 43 percent don't approve, 9 percent aren't sure. As the president works to reverse the Russian incursion into Ukraine and Crimea specifically, how key politically would this kind of -- these kinds of poll numbers be, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think the president would rather have the wind at his back, and it looks like he does. More people approve of the way he's handling this than disapprove of it. I think in that disapproval number, what you see are people who generally disapprove of this president's foreign policy. Who by this sort of Lindsey Graham/John McCain argument that because the president vacillated on Syria, for example, that Putin was more willing to do what he did in Crimea. And so I think, you know, there's a sense of disapproval of the president generally on foreign policy among those people.

But if you look at those numbers, it's higher than the president's overall approval rating. So there's a sense in the country that the president is doing what he can on this situation. And people also understand how they feel about it, which is -- and our polls will show this - that they don't want to send troops in there. So there is a limited amount as to what you can do.

BLITZER: Yes, take a look at this. We asked in this brand-new CNN poll, what actions the United States and its allies should do to try to force Russia to remove its troops. Take a look at these numbers. You see economic sanctions, 59 percent would favor that, aid to Ukraine, 46 percent, military aid, 23 percent. Only 12 percent would support U.S. ground troops.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Actually, some might say there are -- I'm surprised as many as 12 percent would support the introduction of ground troops.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: But U.S. leadership right now is very much on the line.

BORGER: Well, it is. And, you know, the irony for the president is that he has more support in Congress on sanctions, although there's a little bit of a disagreement of how exactly to go about it, than he does from Europe. And so he's got a lead on the world stage now. The Europeans obviously have much more at stake economically when it comes to Ukraine and Russia. And I think that the president has to walk a fine line here because while we've done targeted sanctions, Wolf, we have not taken the next step. And the next step would be to say, to banks worldwide, don't do business with Russian banks, period. That would have huge economic repercussions in Europe, which is why they're so nervous about it. And it would also have repercussions in this country. So what the president's trying to do is to approach this in a step by step way so he can get Europe in line with the United States.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger with some analysis of our brand-new CNN/ORC poll. Thank you.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: When we come back, a possible parallel between Flight 370 and a terror incident a decade ago against Philippine Airlines. The former transportation official, Mary Schiavo, she's standing by live. She'll explain why silence from terror groups could be an ominous clue. She's looking at that.

And later, the Malaysia flight mystery is reigniting the debate over the so-called live black boxes. We're going to explain how they work, why airlines have been reluctant to move forward with this technology.

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