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THE SITUATION ROOM
Ukrainian-Russian Truce Now Shattered; Number Dead Higher Than Missing in South Korean Ferry Disaster; Malaysia: More Resources Likely in Deep Sea Search; Dictator's Secret Childhood Revealed
Aired April 23, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: breaking news in the search for Flight 370. Experts have now studied photos of a metal fragment that washed ashore. Was it a piece of the missing plane? We're now learning what they found.
Plus, new information on al Qaeda's chief bomb maker and whether he may have been killed in a massive attack involving the United States. U.S. and Saudi officials are sharing critical details with us.
And U.S. troops land in Eastern Europe and allied jets scramble. Tensions with Russia are ratcheting higher as the Ukraine conflict erupts again.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Right now, we're getting official word from Flight 370 investigators on that so-called object of interest that was found on the Australian coast and whether it's linked to the missing plane. We're also watching the weather. It may threaten search crews heading out this hour.
We have our team of experts here in THE SITUATION ROOM. They're getting ready to break down all of the new developments, along with our correspondents and analysts in the field.
First, though, let's go to CNN's Miguel Marquez. He's in Augusta, Australia, near the area where that metal fragment was found.
What's the latest, Miguel?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is unfortunately this is going to come as a shock to folks here that it is not related to MH370, as far as officials can tell.
They have looked over this, pictures, and they have sent that item, say police, all the way up to Perth. The interest was so strong that this might be part of that plane. It was found along the beach here in the sort of South Australia town that is known for its surfing and its wine, and it was held on for a couple of days, according to local reporting. This was a large piece of metal attached to some either plastic or fiberglass by rivets. It was held on to for a couple of days, taken to a local airport here. It appeared that it might be part of MH370. So they took every precaution. We also even understand that an area of the beach here was blocked off by investigators so they could look through it to see if -- whether or not there might be any other evidence from MH370.
We will go check that out again today. But right now, that piece of metal that seemed promising is not part of it. And people here are standing down, but, certainly, the entire country alert for anything that might be part of the missing plane -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly are. Miguel Marquez in Australia for us, thank you.
Let's get some more now on the search for the missing plane beneath the sea and on the surface.
Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is following this part of the story -- Pam.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, investigators involved in the search efforts making it clear new underwater assets may be brought in as the search in the targeted zone wraps up soon. And while the Bluefin hasn't found anything yet, Australian officials say they will stay committed to finding this plane for as long as it takes.
BROWN (voice-over): The subsea search of the six-mile radius area by the Bluefin, considered the most likely crash site for Flight 370, is more than 80 percent complete. As investigators consider bringing in more assets to help underwater, the air search hits a snag. For the second day in a row, bad weather grounded planes looking for floating debris.
Today, the Malaysian government appointed a formal team to determine the cause of the accident.
HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: It's imperative for the government to form an independent team of investigators, which is not only competent and transparent, but also highly credible. As I have consistently said since the beginning, we have nothing to hide.
BROWN: But Malaysian authorities have chosen not to make public a preliminary report of facts submitted to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have not made any decision yet on whether to release it to the media or to the public.
BROWN: As the search continues, Australia's prime minister says investigators will not give up.
TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We haven't found anything yet in the area that we're searching, but the point I make that is Australia will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this mystery.
BROWN: And based on their current calculations, investigators say they have a number of search areas to explore, like expanding the search from where they are now or shifting to another ping in that area was detected -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Pamela, stand by, because I want to continue this conversation.
Pamela Brown is here along with our CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz, our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, and joining us live from Australia, Geoffrey Thomas, as he has been over these past several days, the editor in chief of AirlineRatings.com.
Thanks to all of you for joining us.
I guess we shouldn't be surprised this metal, this piece of metal turned out to be not related to the plane.
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: No, it was disappointing, but not a surprise.
And I think if anyone experienced had looked at the piece right off the bat, they would have been skeptical of it.
BLITZER: It shouldn't take very long to see if it's part of a plane or part of a ship or part of something else. It's just a piece of junk. It took for hours and hours and hours, and there were these public statements, Tom, suggesting, you know, this is something of interest. We have got to watch it. We're sending it to Perth to a lab. It gave it the credibility that it obviously didn't deserve.
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, that's true. And I don't understand why they couldn't have had experts there, you know, more quickly to look at that and discount it because it would be so important to determine if it was a piece of the aircraft and where that would lead to the rest of the air search and moving the air search if it was.
BLITZER: Well, let me go to Geoffrey. He's out in Australia.
Geoffrey, even if it turned out to be nothing, you get a piece of metal like this, and you have to examine it. You have to share it with experts to make sure it isn't from the plane. But do you have to say, we're looking at this, this closely? We all want transparency. But I'm thinking of the families. Their hopes go up, and then they go down.
GEOFFREY THOMAS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, AIRLINERATINGS.COM: Look, indeed, Wolf, it's a very sensitive issue.
However, I have got to say when we first heard about it, which is 12, 14, 15 hours ago, as soon as we heard, we spoke to the folks at the ATSB in Canberra. They said they had just received photographs. The photographs were sent across to Canberra fairly quickly. They were already raising doubts last night, saying, we're interested, but we're skeptical.
One of the problems is with the photographs that were sent was there was no scale to them. So they didn't have that dimension. And, of course, unfortunately, they didn't have the piece of metal in their hands. I would imagine the experts in Canberra would have said -- discounted it straight away, had they had the piece of metal in their hands.
BLITZER: Pamela, you reported that the Malaysians now are going to create an investigatory committee to look into this? What's taken so long?
BROWN: Well, this was an expected step in the process, Wolf, similar to like what would happen in the U.S. if there was a crash here. A special committee would investigate the cause of the accident.
Important to sort of specify here that they're not looking into the criminal side of things. The police in Malaysia are still taking a lead on that, the FBI in a support role with that effort.
BLITZER: You would have thought that they would create a committee to look into this immediately.
GOELZ: Yes, about 48 hours after the accident.
GOELZ: The issue here is we still don't know who's on the committee. You know, they said they're going to announce it. It's like the factual report. Where is it? Why the secrecy at this stage?
BLITZER: What would you want to see emerge from this investigation, from this committee report?
FUENTES: Well, information specifically starting at the very beginning. You know, we have all this conflicting information about the radars. Did that plane make the turn? Did it go back across the island of -- or the peninsula of Malaysia?
Did it make that routing around Indonesia, as they claim, or did it go right past Indonesia without the Indonesians noticing that it crossed their country? I mean, those are all, you know, facts that are of the most importance in this, because it would determine how far that plane could go with the amount of fuel it had. That plane could have made it to Antarctica maybe if it had crossed directly over Indonesia, and not looped up and around Indonesia, like they're claiming it did.
So there's so much technical information that they have never released. All these back-channel sources have put out one rumor after another for 47 straight days. So the idea of having more technical analysis by key experts and then being able to put information out publicly that the public should know and the families should know, all of this has been missing.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Pamela.
BROWN: And just to sort of piggyback on what Tom was saying, the family a while back had submitted those questions, I believe 26 questions to be answered, and so far they haven't received the answers.
And I think that it's clearly not sitting well with them that this fact-finding report submitted to the ICAO, International Civil Aviation Organization, isn't being released to the public yet.
BLITZER: So much of the search, Geoffrey, is based on that Inmarsat data that was apparently made available to investigators, although not to the public.
The families want to see that data because they simply don't believe it to be accurate. Inmarsat isn't releasing it publicly for, what, proprietary reasons? Is that their explanation?
THOMAS: That's my understanding, Wolf.
And we can understand that. There's obviously commercial reasons. However, there's so much more information, as the other panelists have suggested, that can be released. And I think the Malaysians absolutely need to release every single piece of factual information they can as soon as possible, because the longer we go on as a mystery, the more the doubts are about the credibility of what they're doing.
BLITZER: Peter, if you were in charge of this investigation, I have asked you this before, what would you be doing? What would you have done differently than the investigators are doing now?
GOELZ: Well, I think I would have started the whole show differently.
And I would have formed working groups on radar, operations, human factors and had periodic reports, factual reports, that all of the participants had signed off on, so that it wasn't just the Malaysians saying, this is the radar data, but it was the Malaysians, the Chinese, the U.S., the Australians and the New Zealanders saying, this is our best understanding of what happened.
Without that, there simply has been a profound lack of credibility.
BLITZER: Is there any way you can force Inmarsat, Tom -- you're a former FBI assistant director -- to release that information?
FUENTES: No, I don't think you can at this point.
I mean, you could release it to the investigators, but force them to publicly release information, I don't think...
BLITZER: You can't do that.
FUENTES: I don't think so. BLITZER: No, unless -- and if you were looking at this investigation, you're as frustrated as anyone. Peter, are you convinced that they're looking in the right area right now?
GOELZ: I think they're looking in generally the right area, but I think there were so many suppositions made.
For instance, as Tom mentioned, did the plane actually circle around the island of Indonesia, or did it cross it? And that's critical.
BLITZER: Geoffrey, do you think they're looking in the right area? Are you convinced they are looking in the right area?
THOMAS: Look, I am, after talking to various officials off the record. Yes, I am convinced they are looking in the right area.
I believe there's more information, quite a bit more information that they are using to put this analysis together. Obviously, we would all love to know what that is, particularly the element of how this airplane either crossed or went around Indonesia. I think that's very important.
But, you know, in the spate -- in the vacuum of real information, there's always going to be an element of doubt.
BLITZER: There certainly is. Geoffrey Thomas, thanks very much. Pam, Tom, Peter, guys, thanks very much to you as well.
Another major story we're working here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, sources telling CNN Saudi Arabia is conducting DNA tests on a body that could be that of the notorious militant known as the bomb maker, the man behind some of al Qaeda's most disturbing explosives.
Was Ibrahim al-Asiri among dozens of militants killed in a U.S.-led anti-terror operation Yemen?
I spoke about that earlier today with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Rogers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think it's prudent to be cautious. We'll know the right answer. If this is, in fact, al-Asiri, this is a big moment in disrupting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operations, of which we know specifically are targeted to the United States.
BLITZER: Without knowing whether or not he was killed, can you at least confirm he was targeted?
ROGERS: Well, I can't talk about a specific operation, but I can tell you that the bomb maker has been someone of interest for our counterterrorism efforts and has been on the high-priority list to take off the battlefield.
BLITZER: I will take that as a confirmation, although you're not confirming it officially.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's get more now from CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom. He's reported extensively from inside Yemen, one of the few Western reporters to have done so. Peter Bergen, our terrorism analyst, is with us as well.
Mohammed, what's the latest you're hearing? The DNA testing, they found the Saudi -- Yemeni, Saudi, suspected, might be this Ibrahim al- Asiri. They don't know for sure. U.S. officials a little bit more skeptical. What are you hearing?
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still a lot of questions as to whether this is actually is Ibrahim al-Asiri.
But Saudi officials telling me today, commenting publicly for the first time that the body of the Saudi militant who's linked to AQAP who was killed in Shabwa province in this firefight with Yemeni commandos on Sunday night that that body was transported to Saudi Arabia and that that's where the DNA tests are actually happening.
The Saudi government officials wouldn't comment as to whether they believed this was al-Asiri, but they did tell me this could very well be a high-ranking top-tier Saudi AQAP target. Clearly, al-Asiri fits that description. But nobody is saying yet because the DNA tests could take a couple of days, it could take a couple of weeks. A lot of the Saudis I have been speaking with privately, they hope that could be al-Asiri, because it would be a huge target, but again, they're not ready to make that comment just yet.
BLITZER: Peter, for the Saudis, this is pretty personal, given his record, not only in trying to attack the United States, Ibrahim al- Asiri, but going after high-ranking Saudi officials.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Indeed.
I mean, he really came to public attention when he tried to kill the now minister of the interior, Prince Nayef. He sent his brother on a suicide mission. The mission didn't succeed. The brother was killed. Prince Nayef succeeded -- managed to survive the assassination attempt.
But, yes, for the Saudis, this is very personal. But, you know, what we just heard is, you know, pretty much every leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was actually a Saudi. If it's a high-ranking AQAP person, it could also be the leader of the group or the number two in the group as well as this guy, al-Asiri. There are quite a few possibilities here.
BLITZER: And 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis as well, so there's a history there.
Barbara, let's talk a little bit about what you're hearing. You broke the story for all of us almost a week or so ago, the analysis of the video that we saw here on CNN thanks to you, the drone strikes, the combined U.S./Yemeni military operation. What's the latest you're hearing from your sources?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's go right to that firefight on the road where this Saudi was killed and the question rising about whether it was Ibrahim al-Asiri, the bomb maker.
What is so interesting here, Wolf, that firefight, it wasn't a drone attack by the CIA. It was a joint U.S. military and Yemeni operation. U.S. troops, U.S. special forces were there, some of the most covert U.S. special forces. Their standard practice, they would look at every face on every dead body right then and there to try and identify them. They would have recognized al-Asiri if it was him.
They would have recognized Wuhayshi if it was him, two of the top leaders. This is very standard practice for U.S. commandos on one of these high-value target raids. So if it does turn out to be al-Asiri, that's going to be pretty interesting. Right now, a lot of questions about whether it's really him or not, wasn't particularly targeted in this raid. That's what we're hearing.
About the tape, what people are really talking about now behind the scenes is, what does this tape really mean over the long run? Where does it leave everybody's thinking about where al Qaeda in Yemen is right now, where their strengths are, what the threat is that they pose?
There's a lot of chatter that Yemeni security forces are very watchful right now. They expect some kind of retaliation from al Qaeda in Yemen. And there is always the very dire prospect of an attack against the U.S. Embassy. U.S. officials will tell you that, for al Qaeda, is their number one target in Yemen.
It is very heavily fortified. All of the recent plots have been disrupted. We know that because none of them have come to fruition, thank goodness. But you can be guaranteed, Wolf, U.S. security officials very watchful in Yemen right now, very concerned that al Qaeda could make its next move.
BLITZER: There are, Mohammed, as you well know, you have been to Yemen, you know the story, other high-value targets there, including the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the number two al Qaeda overall commander, who's there as well. And he was seen in that video that Barbara shared with all of us.
JAMJOOM: Yes, that's right.
Nasser al-Wuhayshi is one of these people that the U.S. and Yemen have wanted to get for quite some time. And the fact that he was in this video and that these leaders were looking so comfortable in this video, this is the reason, I'm told by my Yemeni sources, why the U.S. and Yemen decided to strike hard and strike fast this past week because this was such an embarrassment to see AQAP which has really been silent in the last year, as Peter was saying in the last few days as well, to come out and put out this video in which they seemed to be thumbing their noses at the U.S. and Yemenis, their counterterrorism efforts, to say, hey, we're here, we're comfortable, we will do what we want and you can't do anything about it. The U.S. and Yemen said, well, no, we are going to do something about it. The significance of the operation that has been going on the past few days is that that are actual Yemeni boots on the ground, there are U.S. covert forces helping them, going into provinces that these people don't usually go into because they are such hotbeds of militancy.
I have tried to go into some of these provinces myself even with military escorts. It's been too dangerous in the past. So the fact that they're there, they're carrying out these operations trying to degrade their capabilities, going after their camps, that is very significant. It's a strong message being sent that they are going to try to actually vanquish AQAP.
BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, Peter, that the U.S. intelligence community, the director of national intelligence, secretary of defense, they believe -- correct me if I'm wrong -- there are more al Qaeda militants, elements, terrorists, whatever you want to call them, in Yemen right now than there are in Afghanistan.
BERGEN: Well, we have heard in the past when Leon Panetta saying there's 100 members of al Qaeda in Afghanistan when he was CIA director. He made that statement.
I think just in that videotape alone which Barbara showed last week, you see more than 100 members of al Qaeda. Certainly we're looking at several hundred people who are affiliated with this movement in Yemen. They have lost ground in the past. In 2011, 2012, they controlled a lot of territory in Southern Yemen. You know, this video indicates they feel comfortable in certain areas. They may feel less comfortable this week now after these series of drone strikes and Yemeni/American operations. We will see.
BLITZER: Peter Bergen, Mohammed Morsi, Barbara Starr, our trio of experts on the war on terror, thank you to all three of you.
We have breaking news coming up. As the crisis in Ukraine unfolds, tension in the air over Europe right now. We have details of NATO jets scrambling in response to the Russian bomber.
And more on the breaking news in the search for Flight 370 -- what officials are now saying about what was being called an object of interest.
BLITZER: "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen tonight so we can bring you more of our special coverage of the mystery of Flight 370, plus some other breaking stories we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The breaking news this hour, the rising tensions between Russia and the West. Several NATO member nations today scrambled jets as Russian warplanes came uncomfortably close to their airspace, all this as U.S. soldiers deploy in Eastern Europe to send a message to Moscow about the conflict in Ukraine. The first wave of U.S. Army paratroopers landed in Poland for war games. Tens of thousands of Russian troops are flexing their muscle, holding training exercises across the border from Ukraine. And Russia's foreign minister is promising his country will respond if its interests in Ukraine are attacked.
He's accusing the United States of "running the show there."
Let's get to the situation on the ground in Eastern Ukraine right now. Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is joining us live from Donetsk, where the Ukraine government now is targeting some pro- Russian militants.
Arwa, I know it's a very tense situation. What is the very latest you're seeing there on the ground?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, around Donetsk, there most certainly has been a briefing up of the checkpoints, police and security services.
But the despite the fact that Kiev has said it is going to be relaunching this anti-terrorism operation in four cities across Eastern Ukraine, we haven't really seen any massive military movement. And one must also remember that when they initially launched this operation, the Ukrainian military was absolutely humiliated.
The pro-Russian protesters very well dug into these various buildings, they're not going anywhere, or so they say. And they do believe that if there is any sort of assault launched against them, they will eventually be able to turn to Russia for help. Many of them have already put out various calls for the Russians to come in and protect them.
And so we're really seeing an escalation of the situation at this point, despite the fact that there was that agreement that was come to in Geneva, rather than any sort of easing of tensions, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ukraine's interior minister says one Ukrainian politician was not only found dead, but he was found dead after being tortured and drowned. So what's the latest on that? Because that's clearly escalating tensions.
DAMON: Vladimir Rybak, Wolf, that's his name.
And he was found in the river close to Slavyansk. His body had seemingly been mutilated. He had been weighed down by sandbags, his one of two bodies that were found. The second one still remains unidentified. He had gone missing after a rally on the 17th where he got into an argument with some of the pro-Russian protesters.
Both sides are blaming each other for this. The Ukrainian government, as you said, blaming the pro-Russian protesters, but the self- proclaimed mayor of Slavyansk saying, no, it wasn't us, he was never detained by my people, this is all the fault of these ultra-Ukrainian nationalists.
And so we once again have this family's tragedy caught up in this blame game happening between both sides, Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Eastern Ukraine. Arwa, be careful over there. She's doing excellent reporting, as she always does.
Let's bring in the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker. He's joining us live right now.
Mr. Ambassador, what's your take on this? A Ukrainian politician is found tortured, drowned, obviously dead. What does this do to this crisis, an incident like that?
KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, I think it is intended by the Russians, who I believe committed this, to try to provoke Ukraine to respond in order for them to justify a more massive Russian response. Very similar to what we saw in Georgia in 2008 where the Russians were continually probing and poking, trying to get Georgia to respond. And then when they did, they went in massively in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
I think the Russians are poised to do the same thing in Ukraine and trying to provoke these kinds of incidents.
BLITZER: And the Russians still control those parts of Georgia to this very day. I assume Putin simply thought, you know, if he could get away with it in Georgia, why not get away with it in Ukraine?
VOLKER: Well, exactly right. And Crimea is one where he has always had a strong interest because of the Russian naval presence. And even back in 2008 before he invaded Georgia, he commented that Ukraine was a put-together country, that these territories were only recently added. It was artificial and seemingly justifying some efforts to regain territory inside Ukraine, and I think we're seeing that play out today.
BLITZER: If you were still the U.S. ambassador to NATO, what would you be recommending NATO to do right now?
VOLKER: Right. First off, I think what NATO is doing is on the right track in one respect. It is providing forces to reassure allies that we will defend their territory if it comes to that.
This is the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria. That's NATO's first job is self-defense, and we have some very worried allies on Russia's border now. So putting the effort there to make sure that we have credible collective defense is job No. 1.
The second thing, though, is the ability to project power and to try to defuse crises. And that requires a bit of assistance and support to Ukraine to cause Russia to think twice.
What Russia is doing now is it's taking this territory, it's using special forces on the ground to organize the protesters. It's got masked forces on the other side of the border ready to come in. And it doesn't see any military pushback on this.
And if it's Ukraine alone, then it feels it can overrun those Ukrainian forces. So it is very well poised to use military force here. NATO -- and this is Europe primarily but also the United States -- is unwilling to use military force to stop this. And I think Russia sees that.
I think what is incumbent upon NATO in terms of power projection, put some more forces on the table, provide direct assistance to the Ukrainians in terms of training and tactics and equipment, and try to increase the uncertainty Russia feels about what kind of reaction it might get from Europe.
BLITZER: I spoke earlier in the day, Mr. Ambassador, with Mike Rogers. He's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
I pointed out, look, the NATO allies, there's Article 5 of the NATO allies, the treaty basically, which says you attack one NATO ally -- whether it's Poland or Estonia or Latvia, Romania, any of those countries you mentioned -- you're in effect attacking all of the NATO allies, including the United States.
To me it's like incomprehensible that Russia, under Putin, would do something like that, knowing what the response would be. But listen to what Mike Rogers told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're not dealing with somebody who has the same rational thought process that we may have thought even two years ago. I think all the indicators led Putin to believe he could be more bold, he could be more aggressive. There's just not a lot that NATO and the U.S. can do.
Again, you want to push this; you don't want to push it too far. I think this is a good step by the administration to show that we will back our NATO countries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I know those NATO allies like Poland and the other countries, they're nervous, but do you really believe, Mr. Ambassador, that Putin would order Russian incursions against a NATO ally, Ukraine not being a member of NATO, obviously?
VOLKER: I think if we did not take the steps that we're taking now, he would think that maybe it's an option.
I think Putin doesn't have an end state in mind, other than strengthening Russian power and influence. And I think he has three things in mind. He has the Russian communities that surround Ukraine that he wants to be part of Russia. He has the former Soviet Union states that he believes Russia should have determinant influence over, and then he has Russia acting as the great power of the world.
He's going to push out and try and develop all of these things and only stop where he feels pushback. We have ethnic Russian communities, say, in Lithuania or Latvia or Estonia. We see the same thing in Moldova, which is not a NATO ally. And I think Russia is going to be probing constantly to see where is there pushback and where is there not pushback?
So by taking the steps NATO is taking now, I think we are sending the right signal to Russia: Don't touch NATO. If we did not do that, I think he would wonder what would be the response of NATO if he did have some adventurous (ph) action there?
BLITZER: Kurt Volker is the former U.S. ambassador to NATO. Ominous scenario there indeed. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.
VOLKER: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: Just ahead, CNN's Kyung Lah, she's live on the water at the scene of the ferry disaster off South Korea, where the death toll is now climbing. There she is. We'll join her live in a moment.
We're also following breaking news. We're learning the official finding of what was being called an object of interest in the search for Malaysian Flight 370 has been determined.
BLITZER: Latest death toll from the South Korean ferry disaster is now up to 159. That leaves 143 people still missing. And there's now fear of bodies drifting away from the capsized and sunken ship.
CNN's Kyung Lah is on a boat off Jindo, South Korea. She's seen this operation firsthand. What is the latest, Kyung?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the operation certainly still looks like it is a rescue. Wolf, if you take a look all across the horizon here, you see the large number of ships. Dozens and dozens of ships here spread out through this area. It is eerily quiet. This as the news comes that the chance of finding survivors is exceptionally slim.
LAH (voice-over): A heartbreaking discovery aboard the sunken ferry. Divers working tirelessly around the clock say they found no air pockets, dashing lingering hopes that survivors are still trapped in the submerged hull. That announcement comes as a blow to waiting families, holding onto the possibility someone might be found alive.
Searchers had been focusing on the third and fourth levels of the five-story vessel, believing many of those still missing were likely to be there. Most passenger bedrooms are on the fourth level of the now-upended ship. The search turned up only more bodies. In fact, for the first time, the number of dead is higher than the number missing.
Boats are bringing those bodies back to grief-stricken families waiting on the shore. Once hopeful, now hopeless, these Korean families wait nearby in a gymnasium for their loved ones' remains. Meanwhile, the number of crew members under arrest is now up to 11, including the Sewol captain, Lee Joon-Seok, seen in this video released today, receiving treatment at a medical facility shortly after being among the first to be rescued from the doomed ship.
Prosecutors also said Wednesday that the officers of the ferry operator, Cheonghaejin Marine, were searched, as was the home of the billionaire whose family appears to control the company.
More than two-thirds of those on board the ferry were students on a field trip from Danwon High School in Hong Kong, about an hour south of Seoul.
In a gymnasium near the school, some of the student victims' young faces stared out from photos surrounded by a huge bank of flowers, where the missing and dead have plaques with their photos and names. Hundreds walk by the memorial to pay their respects.
LAH: Now, back here live, you're looking at the barge where the ship is about 65 feet under the water. Those buoys that you see there, that marks the exact spot where the search operation is taking place, where the ship is expected to be. You can see divers also that are coming towards those buoys in orange inflatables. It is still being called a rescue operation, Wolf, even though for all intents and purposes, they have moved into the recovery phase -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Kyung Lah reporting. A heartbreaking story indeed. Thank you.
Just ahead, the Bluefin-21 is nearly finishing scanning the most promising search area, as it has been described. Authorities are talking about bringing in new resources now for the next phase of the search.
And on a very different level, the revealing new photos of a dictator's secret childhood.
BLITZER: Welcome back to the coverage of the mystery of Flight 370.
Malaysian officials now confirming they're likely to bring in new resources for what they're calling the next phase of the search.
We're joined now by CNN safety analyst David Soucie, and our aviation analyst Michael Kay.
Guys, thanks very much for joining us.
David, the current search area is based on the satellite data from Inmarsat that came in, the pings that supposedly came from those one or two of those black boxes. Are you convinced, David, they're searching in the right area right now?
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: You know, I had been, but I'm becoming less and less as time goes on.
One of the things that I'd still like to know, though, is that 20 percent area that hasn't been searched yet, I suspect that that aligns -- and I know it does align with the area that's deeper than what the Bluefin can handle.
So, I'm encouraged also to hear that they're bringing in more resources to rule that area out. But at this point, I'm just not as confident as I was before. I can't give you an answer as to why, but it's not feeling right anymore for me.
BLITZER: Michael, I'll ask you the same question, because -- given the resources that have been devoted to this search operation, they still haven't found anything, not even a small, little piece of wreckage.
Are you confident that they're looking at the right area?
MICHAEL KAY, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Wolf, I think it's all we've got. It's an investigation that's lasted 47 days, and it's surrounded by mystery and controversy. I think it's all we've got. I think there's too much of a convergence of data to rule out where we're looking so quickly. As David already alluded to, we've only searched 80 percent of what is a relatively small area, and it's only surrounding that second ping.
To take the Inmarsat data which has been crunched by some very powerful brains which led us into that area, we've then picked up four pings. And those four pings have been heard for two hours and 20 minutes. And most experts say that those pings are not from a natural resource. I think we are looking in the right area, and I don't think we should be disheartened.
Let's get back to where France 447. It took two years to find the black boxes there. We've been going for 47 days, and we've been going on pretty much thin air in terms of evidence.
So, I think we've got a lot more to go before we can start ruling out the area in its entirety. And even if we do go beyond that, we need to start looking at those assumptions on how far down the southern arc we are, and if we get nothing from that, then let's start looking at the assumptions on the northern arc.
BLITZER: But on that Air France disaster, Michael, you're right, it took two years to find the black box. But within five days, they at least spotted some wreckage of that Air France airliner. So they obviously had an idea of where they were looking, some actual concrete evidence.
KAY: Yes, they had the haystack within five days, Wolf, you're absolutely right. And it still took them two years.
We don't have a haystack. What we've been doing is unprecedented. We've been trying to bypass the haystack and go straight into the black boxes, which is the needle. Now, there are three aspects to this search. If I was Angus Houston, Angus Houston says, number one priority at the moment would be getting at least something that can link debris to the resting place of MH370. If only to console and, you know, for the closure of the families.
So, that's the important bit -- debris on the surface, debris on the ocean bed or the black boxes. There's three things that we can actually look at to get this first phase of the operation, the search operation, wrapped up, which is the where bit. And then it will be on the what, then it will be on to the why. And that, Wolf, can take many, many years.
BLITZER: Are you surprised, David, that that so-called object of interest that they spotted some 12 or 15 hours or so ago, the past hour they have now confirmed it turned up to be unrelated to the Malaysia airliner?
SOUCIE: I'm not surprised that it wasn't related, just from the initial descriptions. It didn't sound like an aircraft part. I am surprised, however, that it took that long to rule it out as an aircraft part. It shows me that they're walking on eggshells and no one is really stepping forward and saying no, that's not, yes, it is.
It's really pretty simple to rule out a part like that. It was metal. It was metallic. It was ferrous. It was -- ability to attach a magnet to it. So it wasn't aluminum.
It didn't have any zinc chromate on it. It had rust on it. It's nothing even like an aircraft part.
So, I'm just -- like I said, I'm surprised it took that long. But it shows to me they're walking on eggshells, and they're going make sure they do everything right and make sure they left no stone unturned.
BLITZER: You know, my vantage point, Michael, and I'll let you weigh in on this. Those poor families, they go through these roller coasters. They think there is something that turns out to be nothing. All of our hearts go out to them.
KAY: Yes, Wolf. I think there's been two sort of separate investigations in terms of credibility going on. The Malaysians clearly didn't get off to a very good start. I think Angus Houston has reined in the credibility a bit to the way he's been very transparent and he's conducted the search operation, I think that's been very impressive.
But just going back to what David said in terms of the sensitivities, if you look at the very start of the investigation on day two and day three, we had all this information coming out about satellite images and about analyst images taken from P-3s which turned out to be nothing. I think then there was a recognition that that part of the world had a lot of debris.
There was then an absence for two weeks there has been nothing on anything that has taken, any satellite images or picture. And then, we get this. So, I would have hoped this would have turned out to be something a little more concrete, given the sensitivities that we have seen so far.
BLITZER: Michael Kay and David Soucie, we'll see you back here tomorrow. Thank you.
Just ahead, a very different story we're following. North Korea's Kim Jong-un as we've never seen him before. We're getting a very close look at some rare photos of his secret childhood.
BLITZER: Long before he was a dictator, he was just a little boy. And now for the first time, pictures are showing us North Korea's Kim Jong-un as we've never, never seen him before.
Our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
You've got the photo album, rare pictures of this dictator as a little guy.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Very rare, Wolf. It's the first time anyone has seen these pictures. And while they may show Kim Jong-un as this sweet, happy toddler, it's his adult behavior that is really alarming the U.S.
LABOTT (voice-over): He doesn't look so menacing as a child, smiling and saluting in a military uniform. But never seen before photos of the North Korean dictator as a young boy foreshadow Kim Jong-un's future as leader of the country's military.
The photos unveiled at an air force celebration. Thousands of North Koreans dutifully cheer as the young Kim is shown in the cockpit of an airplane. Women close to tears as they watch Kim, now all grown up, make his way through the crowd.
The youngest son of former leader Kim Jong-Il was shrouded in secrecy as a child, only a few photos of him in his youth have been discovered.
JOEL WIT, U.S.-KOREAN INSTITUTE AT SAIS: Part of building his myth that he has been prepared to be a leader ever since he was a young child.
LABOTT: The warm and fuzzy photos of Kim Jong-un as a boy contrast with a sharp warning this week from South Korea, that the unpredictable North Korean leader could launch a nuclear test, just as President Obama arrives in Asia and visits Seoul Friday.
JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We continue to urge North Korea to refrain from actions that threaten regional peace and security.
LABOTT: After U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises wrapped up last month, North Korea threatened to carry out a new form of a nuclear test. And recent satellite images indicate increased activity at its main nuclear site, with new movement of equipment and vehicles near tunnels where a test would likely take place.
WIT: North Korea is developing more and better nuclear weapons, more and better ballistic missiles to carry them. It's not a cry for help or a cry for attention.
LABOTT: And, Wolf, this week North Korea criticized President Obama's trip as a dangerous move. So, there is speculation Kim Jong-un could stage some sort of provocation while the president is in Seoul. U.S. officials say they have no evidence of that. But right now, they're watching this situation closely.
But it's very clear, Wolf, this cute chubby cheeked kid has turned into a very frightening leader of a dangerous country.
BLITZER: Take a look at what he has done, including his uncle who was once a power in North Korea. Obviously, he ordered him gone.
LABOTT: Exactly. Who would have nobody that that little kid would turn out to be like this, and they never really thought that he was going to be the leader. It was surprising. And that's why he was kept quiet all these years. But now he is turning into quite his father's son.
BLITZER: The analysts you're talking, to do they really believe the North Koreans would do another nuclear test while President Obama is in South Korea in the coming days?
LABOTT: Well, really, it's the South Koreans that are saying that. They always like to hype it up. But they don't -- U.S. officials say they don't have any indication that that is going to happen while the president is there.
But you really have to take the North Koreans at their word, Wolf. Every time they say they're going to launch a nuclear weapon, they did. They've done three already. This would e a fourth. They think it's going to do it, they just don't know when.
BLITZER: Yes. If they did it while the president is in South Korea, that would be dramatic.
Elise, thanks very much for sharing those photos with our viewers.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
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