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No Claim of Responsibility for Malaysia Air Could Be Clue to Terrorism; Live Black Boxes for Planes; How 2 People Got on Malaysia Airlines Flight with Stolen Passports; Snowden Speaks to South by Southwest Crowds

Aired March 10, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, almost three dozen planes, 40 ships searching the South China Sea for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane. Here are the latest developments. We're learning new details about the tickets used by two people traveling with stolen passports. Police say they were purchased by an Iranian man in the Thai resort city of Puta (ph). So far, there's no evidence linking the stolen passports to terrorism. The search area for the missing plane has been expanded. It now covers a larger portion of the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam. So far, the massive search has turned up no, repeat, no debris from the missing plane.

If we discover that terrorism was behind the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, why is no one taking credit? There could be a reason out there. It's very unsettling if it turns out to be true.

Mary Schiavo is joining us now. She's a former inspector general at the Department of Transportation.

Mary, you suggest that the absence of anyone claiming responsibility could be an ominous clue if it turns out to be terrorism. I want you to explain what your suspicion potentially could be.

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: Well, that's right. Our firm was the lead firm in investigating and litigating 9/11. I spent 11 years of my life on it. And one thing that was very crucial, our work and our examination of Project Bojenka. Bojenka was a plan by terrorists to take out a dozen U.S. planes over the Pacific Ocean. But to make this work, they had to do trial runs, and they had to try it out first. So what they did is they selected a Philippine airliner and did a trial run using fake passports, specifically so no one would find out who was behind it, what they were doing. And so they could do the trial run and then expand the plot further on. And luckily, through law enforcement, through a lucky break on a bomb-making that went wrong, they did get the plot. They did get many of the perpetrators, not all, before they could carry out Bojenka. But it was very important to foil that plot. Same thing here. I've worked many more cases that aren't terrorism than are. But if it is, we've got to get the clues.

BLITZER: Who were the terrorists in that so-called Bojenka plot and what years was that unfolding? SCHIAVO: Well, that was in the years preceding September 11 and the terrorists were associated with al Qaeda. And, like I said, there were many they caught and prosecuted, many that were not, and went on to assist in future terror plots. And so they finally did catch some in the mid '90s and the late '90s. But like I said, they used lessons learned there to help in September 11, 2001. So it's very important to get that.

Now, the wreckage -- the instant they can get the wreckage, they will have really important clues because, if it's an explosive, there will be pitting patterns on the wreckage, and they'll be able to tell it was an explosion. And they'll be able to tell what it is. The United States -- the National Transportation Safety Board has great experience on that from TW800, which was not terrorism, and, of course, Pan Am 103, which was. So they have a great body of knowledge about residue and pitting patterns.

BLITZER: Are you surprised that three days now have passed and they haven't been able to find any wreckage at all in the waters over there in the Pacific?

SCHIAVO: Yes, that is terribly surprising. And because the debris field -- if it was an in-flight, a mid-air explosion, the debris would be scattered wide and far. And so much on the plane will float -- the seat cushions, the life vests, the life rafts, the service carts and containers, parts of the wing, parts of the tail. All that will float. And there is nothing. It is very, very surprising. It almost makes you think of planes lost in World War II and when they find them at the bottom of the ocean years later. But those are old-fashioned planes. Today's modern planes have so many electronics on them, unless it was a catastrophic loss, it's hard to fathom how a plane could remain intact under the water.

BLITZER: Because you would think in this day and age of GPS, transponders, you can't go anywhere without people knowing exactly where you are. A huge Boeing 777 simply doesn't disappear without any pings going off, anywhere, anywhere, a black box or a flight recorder, for example. You don't hear anything. You don't see anything. There's no evidence of what happened. It's pretty shocking to believe that.

SCHIAVO: It is. But remember, the black boxes have smaller batteries. And in ValuJet 592, in TW800, and then again in Air France 447, just recently, it took divers and submersibles to find those. The batteries that will run the pinger will last about 30 days. But in many cases, in a couple of the crashes, it was divers who literally felt them and stumbled upon them. But remember, in a terrorism situation, there are hijack codes. And unless the pilots were prevented from entering those codes -- and you can send ACARS (ph) messages, there is many ways. So if it was terrorism, it had to happen very, very suddenly, because of what's available on modern aircraft or there had to be complicity.

BLITZER: Who should take the lead in this investigation? In other words, who has the most experience, the most knowledge to get the job done as thoroughly and as quickly as possible when you look at all the various groups around the world?

SCHIAVO: Well, sadly, because of what the United States has been through, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Transportation Safety Board have the most experience. If terrorism is suspected, then the FBI -- if it was in the United States, the FBI takes the lead. The NTSB takes a back seat. That's how it worked in TW800. That's how it worked in the 9/11 cases. But when it's in a foreign country, that country -- so it started out looking like Vietnam, would take the lead, according to agreement. But they very wisely have called in the U.S., because we have so much experience with these horrific tragedies and, sadly, with terrorism. And if they can just get the wreckage, they will know. They will be able -- they can do so many residue testings. They have expertise in the pitting patterns. That wreckage is so valuable, even if it does take longer to get the black boxes. Every piece of wreckage holds a clue.

BLITZER: Mary Schiavo, thanks for your expertise. We'll continue this conversation.

Up next, crews searching for the flight data, the voice recorders from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. We're going to tell you about some new technology that calls for what are described as live black boxes.

And later, he's on the run from the United States but the NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, delivers a speech at the big South by Southwest festival in Texas. We'll tell you what he said.


BLITZER: The voice data recorders from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane could provide the best hope of determining what went wrong. So far, there is no sign of the plane, no sign of the devices. But what if an aircraft could beam information back to the ground during an emergency? Any emergency?

Brian Todd is joining us now to talk about that.

Brian, the technology for those so-called live black boxes, it exists. How does it work? And why isn't it available on all planes?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does exist, Wolf. It's not available on all planes now, only because the airlines do not want to spend the money to retrofit their planes to get it to actually work in real time.

And it would work like this. It would be like the black box, which has the cockpit voice recorder in it, the flight data recorder in it. Now, those things -- you know, they send back all the crucial information of what the pilots were saying and anything that might be going wrong with the plane. But as it exists now, you have to wait to find that black box in the ocean, and that's what they cannot find right now. If it were streaming back live in the event of an extreme emergency, then they would be able to find out more information about what went wrong with the plane in real time. Some of the technology does exist. They do have the bandwidth now to do that. But they have not retrofitted the planes to do that.

It would work basically just to break it down very simply, the data would be transferred from the plane in real-time to a satellite, and the satellite would transfer it down to the airline office that would receive it. But experts are telling us it costs a lot of money to retrofit planes in order to be able to do that. Then each airline would have to build a ground station to have people in there to receive the information, to process it, to make sense of it, and also some technical capability on the ground. And the airlines have been reluctant to spend that kind of money.

And, you know, one of the reasons is because we have accidents like this so rarely. But this did come up after the Air France crash in 2009. That Air France flight 447 that vanished over the Atlantic Ocean on the way from Rio to Paris, it took them two years, Wolf, to find that black box. And that's when -- they didn't get the information about what caused the crash until well after they found that black box. So that's what they're thinking of now. And this could be a way to do that. But it is expensive and you would have to also kind of streamline the data, because there is so much different data that can be streamed live. You'd have to sift out a lot of that. They call those parameters, the kind of data you would be sending back, like heading, are speed. You just want a couple of data points, not all the data that's available, just some crucial things that the plane could send back in the event of an emergency. Now, that debate has been rekindled because of this Malaysia Air incident.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us.

Brian, thank you.

We also want to take a closer look at how two people managed to get on that Malaysia Airlines flight with stolen passports. Hard to imagine that happening here in the United States in the wake of 9/11, but that's not the case everywhere.

Here is CNN's Pamela Brown.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's one of the biggest mysteries in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. How in a post-9/11 world did two passengers board an international flight with stolen passports? Even more surprising, they were in plain sight. Among the names listed in Interpol's lost- and-stolen travel documents database, one since last year, the other since 2012, both stolen in Thailand. And it appears the two passengers who used the passports, an Italian and an Austrian citizen, bought their tickets together.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST & FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FBI: When you book your ticket, the airline is not able to actually make an inquiry with Interpol or even the local police about whether you are wanted or whether the passport has been reported stolen. The country, the government does. BROWN: And according to Interpol, last year alone, passengers were able to board planes without having their passports screened against Interpol's databases more than one billion times. The database at Interpol headquarters in France contains an astounding 40 million records of stolen travel documents.

FUENTES: You know, the member countries, the 190 members that belong to Interpol, are not charged a fee for accessing any of those databases. So if the country has sufficient resources and technical capability to wire into Interpol's virtual private network that's running 24 hours a day, then, you know, they certainly would be able to access that database and check. It's just up to the will of the country to set it up and do it.

BROWN: Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said now we have a real case where the world is speculating whether the stolen passport holders were terrorists. But Interpol is asking why only a handful of countries worldwide are taking care to make sure that persons possessing stolen passports are not boarding international flights.


BLITZER: That report from our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Coming up, the man wanted by the United States government for leaking classified information, Edward Snowden, is speaking to an audience at the big South by Southwest festival. We're about to go live to Austin, Texas.


BLITZER: It's the big festival in Austin, Texas that highlights film, music and interactive technology. It's drawn a big name. We're talking about the man wanted by the United States for leaking classified information, the NSA leaker, Edward Snowden. He's living under political asylum in Russia. But today, he spoke remotely to a packed audience at the South by Southwest festival in Austin.

CNN's Laurie Segall is covering the festival for us. She's joining us now from the Texas capitol.

Laurie, what did he have to say?

LAURE SEGALL, CNN.COM: Lots of energy in the room. He opened up by saying that the NSA with their surveillance is setting fire to the Internet. He called on the entrepreneurs in that room to really build out solutions to better protect privacy.

He actually took a Q&A and took questions. And one of the folks that asked a question was the founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Burner Lee (ph), and said how would you change the system? He said that Congress needs a watch dog and we needs to perform that kind of system. He also said that the mass surveillance is preventing very specific types of surveillance. He used the Boston bombing as an example. Other little tidbits he says, he said that the United States still does know what he has and the documents he has. He was talking about some of the power of encryptions. He really called on entrepreneurs to build out better solutions for encryption technology that folks like you and me could use. He was asked -- what I thought was one of the most interesting parts -- was it worth it? Listen to what he said.


EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And I saw that the Constitution was violated on a massive scale. The interpretation of the Fourth Amendment had been changed in secret --


Thank you.

The interpretation of the Constitution had been changed in secret from no unreasonable search and seizure to, hey, any seizure is fine, just don't search it. That's something the public ought to know about.


SEGALL: One thing that -- it was revealed that he was very nervous when he first went to Glenn Greenwald about this that no one would care. Obviously, if you are in that room and please are clapping, you see the conversation that has been started by this, that a lot of folks are talking about it -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What kind of reaction did he get? We heard some applause. He was interrupted by applause during that live streaming. You were in the room. What kind of reaction did he get?

SEGALL: You had around 3,000 people packed into the room. So much energy. And at certain points, people would get up and clap. As people were walking away, I would pull a bunch of entrepreneurs over and say, do you view him as a villain or a hero. 99 percent of the folks said a hero. These are folks in the tech community. And these are folks that are particularly worried about privacy and data collection and they're focused on these solutions -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Laurie Segall, in Austin, Texas, covering that conference for us. Thank you.

Few people like to hear that a snowstorm is on the way, but for some, the snow is necessary for their industry to survive. We'll explain right after this.


BLITZER: It has been a frigid, snowy year so far for much of the country. And while those who have to deal with it might see it as an inconvenience, it has been a blessing to some.

Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Through all the bitter cold and blowing snow, through the misery and madness, the long- running winter has brought long-awaited water.

The head of the Maryland Farm Bureau, Chuck Fry, said, after dry years, that's a big relief.

CHUCK FRY, DIRECTOR, MARYLAND FARM BUREAU: Whether it's a dairy farm on the east coast or whether you live in D.C., or wherever you live, your food comes from away. And it all hedged upon that water.

FOREMAN (on camera): And winter water counts?

FRY: Absolutely, it counts.

FOREMAN (voice-over): As a rule, every 20 inches of snow will melt into one inch of water. And that may not seem like much. But a year ago, well over half the country was in drought conditions. Now, the dry spots are down to around 35 percent and that's mainly in the West, places like California.

BRIAN FUCHS, NATIONAL DROUGHT MITIGATION CENTER: They aren't even going to get to normal by the time their wet season ends later this spring.

FOREMAN (on camera): In simple terms, it comes down to this. With enough snow and enough rain, a farm like this can more than double the output of corn and soy beans and so much else.

(voice-over): So as John Soel (ph) prepares for planting.

JOHN SOEL (ph), FARMER: I hope it does. Not snow, but precipitation.

FOREMAN (on camera): If this keeps up?

SOEL (ph): Yes, if this keeps up that would be fantastic. That's what we all hope for.

FOREMAN (voice-over): High hopes amid the high waters that winter is leaving behind.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Tuscarora, Maryland.


BLITZER: Let's do a quick check on the markets and see how they are doing. You see the Dow Jones Industrials are down about 78 points. The real driver is the geopolitical conflict and some mixed economic news coming out of China. That's creating some concern on Wall Street over American exports to China. We will continue to monitor and watch the markets.

On Capitol Hill, more than 2,000 Democratic Senators will go sleepless to call attention to global climate change. It is expected to begin after today's votes are concluded and then continuing until about 9:00 a.m. eastern Tuesday morning. The Senators will use the time to speak on the Senate floor throughout the night to urge congressional action. Senator Barbara Boxer, of California, says anyone who is not concerned about climate change, you look at China. Many cities are now shrouded in heavy smog.

A programming note for all of our viewers. CNN debuts its new Monday night line up tonight with two brand-new shows. At 10:00 p.m. eastern, Don Lemon walks you through the day's news on "The Don Lemon Show." And at 10:30 p.m. eastern, Sunny Hostin and Mark Geragos host "Making the Case." That's a look at America's biggest court cases, the legal view. Tune in to both of these new shows tonight, every Monday night, 10:00 and 10:30 p.m. eastern.

That's it for me. Thank very much for watching.

We'll have a special report coming up in "The Situation Room" at 5:00 p.m. eastern on the latest involving the mystery surrounding that Malaysia Airlines flight. How could a Boeing 777 and all the people on board simply disappear? We will go in depth. "The Situation Room," 5:00 p.m. eastern, later today.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

NEWSROOM with Jim Sciutto starts right now.