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Will Ferguson Police Chief Step Down?; Interview With U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno; ISIS Terror; Lava in Hawaii; NASA Rocket Explodes; Lava Could Claim First Homes Soon; Will Ferguson Police Chief Step Down?; Clues About "Catastrophic" Rocket Explosion; Khorasan Still Plotting, Leaders Survived Airstrikes

Aired October 29, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: ISIS terror, a mass execution of prisoners, as anti-ISIS fighters finally get desperately needed reinforcements. I will talk about that and much more in an exclusive interview with the U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno.

Disaster investigation. So what caused this spectacular failure of this NASA rocket just seconds after taking off at on a supply mission to the International Space Station? Experts say there are clues in the video.

River of fire, lava closing in on the homes in Hawaii, threatening to wipe out an entire community. It could just be a matter of hours before the first homes go up in flames.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following major new developments in the war against ISIS, including the arrival of fresh rebel forces and heavy weapons in Northern Syria, where the militants are laying siege to the city of Kobani.

But in a fresh demonstration of ISIS brutality, the terrorists executed dozens of Iraqi prisoners, leaving their bodies on display in the street.

We have in-depth coverage, including my exclusive interview with the U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, along with our correspondents. They are all standing by.

But, first, our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, begins our coverage. He's got much more on the mass execution.

What are you hearing, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm told by a senior military official that the tribe had negotiated a surrender to ISIS in exchange for fair treatment, and ISIS, perhaps not surprisingly, went back on its word.

This is a debilitating development, because these men were from a Sunni tribe fighting ISIS, and the coalition needs Sunnis to do this, much as happened during the Arab awakening against al Qaeda during the Iraq war. But for this group, answering that call ended terribly.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): The gruesome images put ISIS brutality on frightening display, 45 Iraqi men executed by the terror group in cold blood after being kidnapped weeks ago.

The men were members of the prominent Sunni Albu Nimr tribe, whose members had taken up arms against ISIS, which is also Sunni, after being forced from their homes just northwest of Baghdad. Just on Monday, the U.S. airdropped humanitarian aid, including food, to the tribe. But two days later, the men were dead. A rescue by Iraqi security forces never came.

Today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated that the fight against ISIS will require a long-term effort.

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's going to require coalitions of common interests which we are forming. We have more than 60 countries with us to deal with this. This is an ideology. This is a dynamic that in total we have never quite seen.

SCIUTTO: Now Kurdish rebels fighting ISIS in Kobani, Syria, are receiving valuable new reinforcements, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from Northern Iraq. After delays, Turkey allowed the Peshmerga to cross its territory into Syria, bringing both desperately needed artillery and fighting experience.

STEPHANIE SANOK KOSTRO, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The Peshmerga are known for being excellent fighters. They are also now fortified with heavy weaponry. That's really what they're bringing to this game, in addition to the symbolism, is anti- tank,anti- armor artillery.


SCIUTTO: We're nearing now three months into the air campaign against ISIS, and looking at the numbers here, this coalition, this air campaign really becoming one dominated by U.S. warplanes.

You look at the numbers here, 415 airstrikes, 361 of them by U.S. warplanes, in Syria, 315 airstrikes, 267 by U.S. warplanes. Overall, it's about 6-1 U.S. vs. all the coalition partners combined. But this is something that U.S. officials have not shied away from acknowledging.

You will remember the president said on "60 Minutes" a short time ago that when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don't call Beijing, they don't call or Moscow. They call us. That's the deal. And we're seeing that play out very much in the air over both Iraq and Syria, Wolf.

BLITZER: Although I have got to say, and I think you will agree, Jim, it's still pretty impressive that the coalition, the partners in this air campaign against ISIS are participating, these various countries in the Middle East. That's very encouraging they're still with the U.S. in this war. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.

Let's go to the Syrian-Turkish border right now, where Kurdish reinforcements are heading towards Kobani.

Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is there on the border right now.

What are you seeing over there, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, actually, just before you joined me, we heard three loud blasts.

Even here in the town of Surich (ph), about 10 kilometers away from Kobani, but on the other side of the border, you can still hear what must have been airstrikes going in.

But this town is really waiting and has been waiting for hours now for the arrival of the Peshmerga, those Iraqi Kurdish fighters coming from Northern Iraq, a lengthy journey across land, the motorized convoy coming through here and then 100-plus have actually flown in separately. They will reunite in this town, and then perhaps at dawn or maybe during the night cover go into Kobani, perilous entry certainly.

The Turkish military preparing the ground there -- we saw a B-1 bomber circling before dusk in fact earlier on today. But this morning brought a real surprise to those defending Kobani. They said they had been expecting the Peshmerga to arrive. What they got at dawn today was quite different.

Syrian rebels, at the request or behest and facilitation of Turkey, about 50 of them turning up quite separate to what they had expected, not Kurdish reinforcements, but Syrian rebels, as I was saying. We have had a lot of heavy clashes after that. And this town now, I have to say, tense to some degree, the police just behind me as well, these crowds waiting to ready to greet the Peshmerga. Rumors running that they're running late because the Turkish military isn't assisting their passage too much through Turkey. Obviously, that runs contrary to Turkish invitations that come through in the first place, but certainly a sense atmosphere here.

They want to see those reinforcements inside Kobani fast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh on the border there, not far from Kobani, be careful over there, Nick. Thanks very much.

The war on ISIS is forging some unlikely ties for the United States, which include a fighting force in which women are playing a very key role.

Our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, reports for us from Northern Syria.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't be fooled by the pretty song. These women are part of a militia that is ISIS' most deadly enemy.

This is YPG. They have fought ISIS on the ground in Syria for more than a year. Only recently they started getting help from the U.S. in the form of weapons drops. A surprising turn of events for this secular Marxist-rooted movement which includes many fighters who have long battled America's NATO ally Turkey.

(on camera): An important of this Kurdish movement's ideology is founded on gender equality. That means female fighters fight and bleed on the front lines, and that stands in sharp contrast to ISIS, which has been covering women up and hiding them from public life.

(voice-over): Addressing the crowd, a top Kurdish official who urges the fighters to protect their people from becoming slaves of ISIS. She is the co-president of one of three Kurdish statements in northern Syria that have largely governed themselves for the last three years.

HADIYA YUSUF, CO-PRESIDENT, JAZIR CANTON (through translation): Our dream is to build a Democratic society living together in unity.

WATSON: The Kurds call their region Rojiva.


WATSON: Some of them clearly proud of their experiment in self rule. Life in the town looks relatively peaceful and secular, unlike other parts of Syria taken over by Islamic militias. But the streets feel empty. Many of the town's Christian residents have fled and more keep leaving.

(on camera): This is a sad day for your family. Why?

PETER ISSA, RESIDENT OF SYRIA: Yes, because they left our country.

WATSON (voice-over): Peter Issa's his tearful mother and sister waved good-bye inside of a 1954 DeSoto. Their final destination is Germany.

The town's shrinking Christian flock can still walk peacefully through the streets to Sunday School, enjoying the protection of the Kurds. But the Kurds are paying dearly.

At this memorial ceremony, mothers and wives of dead fighters, and this widow. She says ISIS killed her husband last year and mutilated his body.

"If I didn't have these children, I myself would go and fight," she swears.

Her young son already wears the uniform of a future Kurdish fighter.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Rojava, in Northern Syria.


BLITZER: All right, let's get some more on all of this.

The U.S. Army chief of staff, General Ray Odierno, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me.

General Odierno, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Thanks for taking the time.

ODIERNO: Good to be here.

BLITZER: I know you have a lot going on.

The big question right now, you just heard Nick Paton Walsh. He's hearing more airstrikes, more explosions going on in Kobani right now.

Based on the latest information you're getting, what's the status of this war against ISIS in this key town along the border with Turkey?

ODIERNO: Well, I think as we've said, we've kind of tried to stop the initiative of ISIS through airstrikes. We're waiting for reinforcements to come in on the ground with the Kurds. And so I think we're making some progress there.

And it's really this theme throughout all of this fight against ISIS. It's about restricting their freedom of movement, restricting some of their initiative so the forces that are on the ground can -- can fight with them and stop them from gaining more ground.

BLITZER: Do you think that Kobani can be won from the -- from the U.S. perspective?

ODIERNO: I -- I would just say I think there's -- obviously we're, with the airstrikes and with potential Peshmerga reinforcements, I think the potential there is for it to be successful.


ODIERNO: Lots of--


BLITZER: -- the Peshmerga being the Kurdish fighters.


BLITZER: Iraqi Peshmerga, Syrian Kurds.

Any help at all from the NATO ally, Turkey?

ODIERNO: Well, I -- they're help -- they are helping facilitate movement through there. They obviously know the area. I think they're helping a bit in the -- in that area, as well. So I think there's some help there.

Again, as we are, we're not putting any fighters on the ground. So we're relying on the indigenous forces to do this. And I think helping them and continuing to assist them, Turkey is doing that, as well.

BLITZER: So Turkey is not going to send any of its troops?

They have a huge army. They have a very sophisticated combat capability. They could go in there and clean it out relatively quickly if they would to.

ODIERNO: Yes, again, that's their own decision. I have not seen any indication that they're going to do that.

BLITZER: So they're not going to do that.

Are they going to let U.S. fighter planes launch strikes against ISIS from Incirlik, the NATO air base in Turkey?

ODIERNO: Well, again, they've been helping us to do this and so I think that it will continue.

BLITZER: Are U.S. fighter jets using--

ODIERNO: I -- I'm not--

BLITZER: -- Turkish air bases?

ODIERNO: -- I don't want to comment on the that we use.

BLITZER: Because it sounds like maybe they are. I was under the impression they were not.

ODIERNO: Again, I'm not -- I don't want to comment on how -- what we're using.

BLITZER: But you don't want to say--

ODIERNO: But we are not, as far as I know, we're not using any--


BLITZER: All right, so what -- all these reports we're hearing that ISIS is committing these acts of terror, they're brutalizing people, they're -- they're just raping women.

Are all these reports true?

ODIERNO: Yes. This -- they have a history of this. This is not new. We -- we have watched groups like this before. These extremism elements will stop at nothing in order to dominate, in order to control populations, in order to move forward with their own movement.

And so, this has been very real and not only that, they're proud of it. They like to put it and show everybody. They let -- what they're doing and they're -- and the ruthlessness nature of their actions. And they think that will help them to gain more influence.

And so it's very real and it's something we all should be very aware of. BLITZER: Is there a threat to the Baghdad International Airport, which is about 12 miles or so from the ISIS troops in the Anbar Province, not very far away, as you know?

ODIERNO: Yes, I mean I think it's protected. I -- I think -- there is always a threat. But I think right now that we feel it's very well protected and we're able to use that. There's -- it's being used regularly with many, many flights coming in and out. And we feel that's protected.

But it's something that obviously everyone is watching very carefully.

BLITZER: How worried are you about all -- there's thousands of Americans in Baghdad in that so-called Green Zone.

How -- how endangered could they be?

ODIERNO: I feel comfortable that we have protections in place for them. I think we have -- we have some security there to protect them, U.S. security on the ground, as part of the force we have there, in case they are attacked, it's to protect them specifically. So I feel comfortable that they'll -- they're safe.

BLITZER: Here's what worries me. And I don't know if it worries you. I assume it does. That ISIS now has these shoulder-fired anti- aircraft missiles that they could use to down not only Iraqi aircraft, but U.S. aircraft, U.S. helicopters, Apaches, C-130s, other planes and even commercial aircraft if you will.

ODIERNO: We are always worried about the technology they're picking up. And there are reports that they have this capability. Obviously, we have systems that protect our aircraft. Of course, it causes us to be very careful and make sure we understand that that threat is out there and it affects how we conduct operations.

BLITZER: Are they using poison gas?

ODIERNO: Unclear. Unclear. There are some reports of that, but it's unclear whether they are or not.

BLITZER: We have a lot more questions, General. And I want to get to that. Also, questions about the U.S. troops who are now deployed in another war, the war against Ebola in West Africa, what's going on with them.

Much more of our conversation right after this.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news -- new blasts heard within the last few minutes in the city of Kobani, along the Syrian-Turkish border.

Reinforcements are arriving right now to try to help the fight against these ISIS terrorists. That fight has been going on for days now. It's been -- ISIS has been laying siege to the city for weeks, in fact.

We're back with the U.S. Army chief of staff, General Ray Odierno.

This new CNN poll asked the question, "Should U.S. ground troops be used against ISIS if the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad were attacked?"

Seventy-two percent favor ground troops to protect the embassy. Twenty-seven percent oppose.

You got some criticism a few weeks ago when you said you've got to have ground forces. And you then suggested not necessarily U.S. ground forces.

Will the U.S. have to use ground forces, for example, if -- if all things get crazy over there and in the capital of Baghdad?

ODIERNO: Well, I think that's a decision we'll have to decide at the time. I mean it depends on the situation.

I think if we have to protect U.S. citizens, the embassy, will we use U.S. forces to do that if we find -- to protect our own people. We will absolutely do this.

But the long-term war against ISIS needs to be fought by the indigenous capability there. It needs to be fought by Iraqis. It needs to be fought by Syrians. It needs to be fought by other Arabs, because it's their country and they need to win that back.

And I think it's important that they do that. We certainly can assist them, train and advise them. But I think in the long-term, that's the only way you're going to solve this problem.

BLITZER: It's been so heartbreaking. And I know--

ODIERNO: It has.

BLITZER: -- you served a lot of time in Iraq. You saw the victories--


BLITZER: -- in Fallujah or Mosul, all these places, go down the drain, at least in recent weeks.

Is the Iraqi military, which the U.S. trained, financed, armed, is it doing the job, because so far, they've been MIA?

ODIERNO: Yes. What people have to remember is that what happened in the last two or three years, leaders were changed, leaders who were not trained were put in charge. They were not continuing to do the development that we had originally done.

So when -- when troops lose the confidence in their leaders, they're not going to fight. And that's what we saw. They -- they simply did not fight. We're not back on the ground. We're helping them. I think over time, they're -- they're starting to make more progress. We're starting to see it slowly. It's going to take time, though. And what the airstrikes are doing for us is buying a little time in order for us to train them.

And I think in the long-term, that will -- I think it will come to fruition. But we're going to have to continue to work hard with them.

BLITZER: We asked also this question, "Are you confident?" -- in our new CNN/ORC poll -- "Are you confident the United States will degrade and destroy ISIS forces?"

In September, 61 percent said yes. But now it's down to 54 percent.

You're the Army chief of staff.

Are you confident that this U.S.-led effort will degrade and eventually destroy ISIS?

ODIERNO: I -- I think it has the potential to do that. Let me clarify what I'm saying.

We said very early on, this is a long-term effort. This is not going to happen in three weeks, a month, two months. It's a three to four year effort, because that's what it's going to take to get the indigenous forces prepared and to do this.

So I think there's -- again, the airstrikes are buying us time. They aren't going to solve the problem by themselves. It's going to take people on the ground, ground forces, as I've said before.

But it really needs to be the indigenous forces. And over time, if that's not working, then we're going to have to reassess and we'll have to decide whether we think it's worth putting other forces in there, to include U.S. forces.

BLITZER: So you say three, maybe five years, something like that--

ODIERNO: That's -- that's what we--


BLITZER: I've heard other experts say it could take 30 years.

ODIERNO: Well, I think it's -- this is a 30 year problem, but to really -- I think it's a 30 year potential problem. However, I think, in the next three to four years, you can significantly degrade the capability of ISIS.

BLITZER: If this new Iraqi government--


BLITZER: -- steps up. I'm -- I'm worried about this new Iraqi government, the same political party as the old Iraqi government. The first visit the new prime minister does as prime minister is to go to Iran.

ODIERNO: Yes. I would just say remember -- I tell everybody, remind us why we're where we are. We're a failed government in Syria, where the people didn't believe in it. And in Iraq, we had a government that was not responding to the people. So ISIS exploited that.

So it's absolutely critical that this new government takes charge, understands they're there for all Iraqi people -- Sunni, Shia, Kurds. And if they don't do that, then it's going to be very difficult to defeat this threat. That's why the political piece to this is really important.

The initial indications are this prime minister is serious about reaching out to the other groups. Only time will tell if he does it the way it needs to be done.

BLITZER: Let's hope he does.

There's another war, there's a war on ISIS, there's a war against Ebola right now. U.S. soldiers are in -- deeply engaged.

What, there's about 1,000 U.S. military personnel in West Africa right now. It could go up to 3,500, 4,000.

Today, the secretary of Defense accepted the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs that all of these military troops, once they leave, no matter what they were doing there, will be quarantined for 21 days.

You think that's smart?

ODIERNO: I do. It was my recommendation.

And why -- why is that?

Well, first, remember that our soldiers are not volunteering. We order them to do missions. So it's up to us to make sure they're properly protected.

It -- although we understand the risk is low, it's important for us, for the morale of the units, for the morale of our family members, that they understand we're going to do everything we can to protect our soldiers. And that's really important.

So we feel confident that it's the right decision. We'll continue to assess this and if, over time, we believe we don't have to be this strict, then we'll re-look at the policy.

BLITZER: Because it seems like there's one standard for the United States military, which is the standard you recommend, everyone gets quarantined--


BLITZER: -- for 21 days once they leave Liberia or--

ODIERNO: Right. BLITZER: -- Sierra Leone or Guinea. Another standard for civilians.

You understand--


BLITZER: -- it sends a conflicting--

ODIERNO: Yes, but I think it--

BLITZER: -- confusing message.

ODIERNO: -- but I would say it's apples and oranges. Again, I would say civilians are volunteers. Our military are not -- they sign up to do any mission we provide them. And so it's up to us to make sure that we protect them and we think that's important.

And we have thousands of people over there, as you just said, where with civilians it's handfuls.

And so it's important that we do that. And we have many missions we have to do. And it's important we maintain the confidence of our soldiers and our families, that we will take care of our soldiers and the families when they return.

BLITZER: So be a -- once they return, once they leave there, no matter what they were doing, 21 days--


BLITZER: -- they're not going to be able to see their family--

ODIERNO: Of enhanced monitoring.

BLITZER: Yes. They're going to be -- enhanced monitoring is quarantine?

ODIERNO: Yes. Well, here's what I'm -- the feedback I've gotten with all the town halls and feedback, the families are very pleased with this. They feel protected, that -- that -- that it will not be carried back to their own families.

And so for us, right now, we believe it's the right thing to do.

BLITZER: One final question. Barbara Starr, our Pentagon -- you know her -- she reported earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM that these Russian military planes are flying over Europe right now--


BLITZER: -- in very disturbing ways. They're not using their transponders. They're not communicating air traffic control. This is a -- this is a worry.

What is going on? ODIERNO: Well, there's a concern. I mean Russian aggression is clear. They -- they have clearly gone on a type of aggression, whether it be in the Ukraine. And the important part about this is they're not abiding by rules that have been set up, air rules, normal air rules, that everybody files flight plans if, in fact, the report is true. And, in fact, the fact that they are flying without any communications.

And so that's concerning. Again, this is Russian aggression. And I think they're trying to reassert themselves. I think we have to watch it very carefully. It's important that we reassure our allies.

We -- we deployed a brigade over to Eastern Europe. We now have a heavy brigade that's conducting exercises with our partners. And -- and we will continue to do actions like that, to reassure our allies because of this Russian aggression that we continue to see.

BLITZER: Well, good luck, General.

Thanks very much for joining us.

Thanks for your service and all you're doing.

ODIERNO: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: General Ray Odierno is the U.S. Army chief of staff.

We have breaking news just ahead. Lava, yes, lava is threatening an entire community on the island of Hawaii. The first homes could burn at any time.

And CNN has learned that the Ferguson, Missouri, police chief may be on his way out in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting. We're getting reaction. We're looking at who might replace him.

Stand by.



MYERS: -- into the ocean, and it's been going this direction into the Pacific Ocean. It's not doing that any longer. It's moving toward a town of Pahoa. How did that happen? How did the lava start going in the wrong direction?

Well, it started through a different crack in that Pu'u O'o vent. This thing has been spewing lava for 30 years, but it's all the way into the town now. Only a couple hundred yards from Pahoa Village Road, and it's moving into these homes and villages here across the northeastern part of this lava flow.

Let me show you what has happened over the years. For 30 years, the lava has been flowing this way. Well, now it is flowing this way, in a different direction, in a different crack, and from the same vent but going a different direction, going for Pahoa. And this is going to be the problem, as the lava continues in this direction.

What we have going for us now are something called breakouts. Let me describe what a breakout is here on my next graphic. What it means is that the lava is trying to make its way down into one long tube. But the tube above the lava point here, the flow front right there, is breaking out. So lava is spewing out here. Lava is spewing out here. And it's not making its way all the way down to the front as fast as it was.

Think about this. This is a tube of hardened lava on the outside, but molten lava on the inside. So all this lava goes down the tube, and it goes down and down and down until it hits this town. But if you cut a hole -- let's say you're washing your car. You cut the hose near the faucet. You don't get as much water pressure. If you get the hose here and here, you're not going to get as much lava pressure. You're not going to get the speed that we had in the past couple of days. When those breakouts stop helping, then all of a sudden, the lava picks up speed again, Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story that is. Let's hope for the best. Chad, thanks very much.

So let's get onto some other important news we're following, including tensions still high right now in Ferguson, Missouri.

The attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, says there's a need for wholesale change in the local police department there. All this coming as CNN has learned the Ferguson police chief may be on his way out.

Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, is on the story for us. He's joining us along with our other guests, the community activist John Gaskin; our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin; and CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, the former FBI assistant director.

Evan, you reported this police chief is on his way out. You're getting some pushback from officials there. What's the latest? What are you hearing?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, every time you have someone who is being pushed out, essentially, you often have this kind of pushback. People don't want to hear the news before they're ready to put it out.

We're told that this announcement is expected as soon as next week. The plan right now is to have the St. Louis County Police Department take over some of the management of the Ferguson Police Department, and start healing some of the rift there between the police and the community that they're supposed to be protecting.

BLITZER: That certainly is a serious rift over there.

And John, what are you hearing over there in Missouri? What's the reaction to this report that the police chief, Thomas Jackson, may soon be leaving? JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, many people on the ground have

heard various things. Many people were expecting the resignation to take place today, but many are with the understanding now that it could be taking place, really, next week.

But several people, several groups, several individuals have called for Chief Jackson's resignation. They believe that the Ferguson Police Department needs a fresh start. And they need an opportunity to get back on the right road to heading towards building trust with the community. And this is a great way to start heading in that direction.

And I believe, along with many community leaders, once he steps down, they'll be able to start that -- start that road to, really, a recovery.

BLITZER: Have you heard any names out there who might replace him?

GASKIN: I haven't heard any names. But what I have heard is that there's a very good possibility that the St. Louis County Police Department would be -- could potentially be taking over the Ferguson Police Department. As you know, where Darren Wilson came from, the Jennings Police Department, they were taken over by the St. Louis County Police Department, as well.

BLITZER: Tom, who would have jurisdiction over that police department if the police chief were to go, and they decided they needed some control from the outside?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the city can make a deal with the county and have them take over. And many towns across the country, when policing became too expensive, actually contracted with their county or the state police to take over. So in this case, the management could go to St. Louis County.

TOOBIN: And there's a policy reason why that might be a very good idea. Missouri, like a lot of states, has these small police departments that are over-militarized, undertrained, and frankly, not doing as good a job as perhaps big-city police departments do.

GASKIN: There are 60 of them in St. Louis County alone.

TOOBIN: Right. Which is just uneconomical, and it doesn't make any sense. So if this crisis could be used as an opportunity to consolidate, that might be a good thing for the long run.

BLITZER: We know the grand jury is going to come out with a decision, probably by mid-November or so. Getting all these kinds of leaks out there, are you getting any evidence which direction they might be going as far as the police officer who shot and killed this young teenager?

TOOBIN: The short answer, no. Longer answer, it's probably a good idea not to rely on these leaks, because the people who are doing it have a self-interest in either making Officer Wilson look good, Officer Wilson look bad. It's hard to be patient. We should be patient and wait until the

grand jury reaches their decision.

BLITZER: John, how tense is that situation out there in Ferguson and in St. Louis, the whole area right now?

GASKIN: Well, many people, as has been mentioned with the leaks, are feeling as though there may not be an indictment. But some people still have hope that there is a possibility there could be an indictment.

And like you just mentioned, you know, there's really -- we can't really trust those leaks. We really have to wait and be patient. But many people on the ground, many business leaders, many community leaders are really bracing for unrest that could potentially take place if there is a non-indictment.

BLITZER: And if there's a non-indictment and there's a new police chief, maybe that could ease some of the tensions. Is that possible, Tom?

FUENTES: I doubt it.

BLITZER: The tensions will still be there.


GASKIN: I think it will be tough to bring down the expectations of these people on the street who really want an arrest, and they want -- they want more justice.

BLITZER: But it is possible there will be no indictment. Right?

TOOBIN: It certainly is, but it is a terrible situation to have a crowd demanding an indictment, and with the threat of violence hanging over it. I don't know whether he should be indicted or not, but the idea that, if you don't indict, there's going to be violence, that's a really sinister combination.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. All right. Guys, thanks very much. We'll wait and see what happens as far as the police chief is concerned, whether there's an indictment or anything else from that grand jury. Guys, thanks very much.

Just ahead, the search for answers in the NASA rocket disaster. Are there clues in this spectacular video?


BLITZER: We're learning new details about a story we first brought you live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. A spectacular explosion that destroyed a NASA contractor's rocket just moments after a launch on a mission to resupply the International Space Station.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. He's got more -- Brian. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been speaking today with

officials from NASA and with the company which owns and operates that rocket. They are combing through the debris for clues.

They froze every computer, every launch command and log from the moment of the explosion to analyze that data. And they are going over every frame of the incredible video that was shot last night of that incident.



TODD (voice-over): For a few seconds, onlookers were captivated. Then horrified.


TODD: Even from a safe distance, across a body of water, the blast concussion was massive and jarring. The rocket was unmanned. No one was hurt.

What happened? A, quote, "catastrophic failure" seconds after launch, according to Orbital Sciences, which owns this NASA-contracted rocket. Tonight, an investigation is under way.

Expects say one possible clue can be seen in this video, an explosion in the aft section near the bottom, where the engine is.

ROGER LAUNIUS, NATIONAL AIR & SPACE MUSEUM: The rocket motor at the bottom -- at the bottom of every rocket is the place where the fuel gets mixed, ignited, and the exhaust then spurts out, which is what forces the engine to propel the rocket into space. Yes, when you put these together, you're creating a volatile situation, and there can be failures.

TODD: Another possible cause: a fuel line rupturing.

Just after the explosion, officials at mission control issued this directive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd ask all personnel to -- to segregate any mission notes, any photographs, any other data that they've taken from the launch operation today.

TODD: Orbital Sciences plans to analyze that data, review the video of the explosion and the debris. Every rocket has a self-destruct switch, to be engaged if it veers off course.

LAUNIUS: They launched this from Wallops. So if it turned around and headed for Baltimore, they might destroy it in the air.

TODD: A NASA official tells CNN they did hit the self-destruct switch after this rocket failed as a precaution, to make sure it didn't fly anywhere else. The rocket was carrying food and supplies for the International Space Station, an astronaut who was on the space station knows what it's like to be cut off.

LEROY CHIAO, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: We did have a food shortage and actually, we started to run low on potable water as well. And so, you know, we had to ration food for about four or five weeks until the resupply ship arrived, on Christmas Day as a matter of fact.

TODD: But this space station crew won't go hungry. Officials say the crew has enough supplies to last well into next year and a resupply rocket has just docked with the space station.


TODD: Will this catastrophic failure be a big setback to the private space industry? Probably not.

Analysts say NASA will very likely not go back to buying, owning and managing rockets, like it once did, not only because of the financial strain that would bring, but also because in a private space industry, they say, the lack of a huge bureaucracy still allows for speedier innovation and efficiency in space flight, Wolf. They're going to continue on with this pattern.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There's some concern that the engines of the rocket could be a problem. These are old engines that were actually built in the old Soviet Union.

TODD: It's an anachronism, Wolf. It's built in the Soviet Union decades ago. The engines were modified and they were tested at a NASA facility before being placed on these rockets. And, of course, it's not clear that the engines were the cause of this crash, this explosion. But experts say if you're going to be looking at the cause, you better start by looking at those old Soviet-made engines.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, for that.

Let's get some more in-depth information. Joining us, our aviation analyst Miles O'Brien.

What about those engines, Miles? You studied them.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, Wolf, they go back to the space race. They were designed originally by the Soviets to loft their N-1 rocket, which was their version of the Saturn V, to send cosmonauts to the moon. They had multiple launch pad failures and then gave up on going to the moon.

And these rockets, matter of fact, they were told to destroy them. But the design bureau put them in a warehouse. They were discovered many years later, purchased by Orbital Science as a way to loft this craft, Antares, into lower earth orbit.

And this will be a big area of focus, because as it turns out, Orbital Science didn't really have a lot of options for buying a U.S. homegrown rocket. They just aren't out there. And so, they turned to the Russians and this refurbished 40-year-old rocket. Is that the wisest, safest way to get to low-earth orbit? That will be the focus of this investigation.

BLITZER: Well, take us into depth a little bit more, Miles, on how they're going to deconstruct this explosion?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, we talk about aviation accidents all the time. We think about the black boxes, right? But in this case, when you're dealing with rockets, all of the information you need is sent out via telemetried streams of data to mission control. All those people in front of those consoles are reading real-time information on what's going on, on board that rocket.

So, if there's some sort of tremendous difference in pressure or turbo pump appears to not be operating or a fuel line pressure decreases rapidly, they'll be able to isolate pretty quickly where the failure might have been. So, I don't expect it will be too long before they'll be able to isolate where the problem was.

BLITZER: Miles O'Brien, with his expertise obviously -- thanks very much to you. We'll stay on top of this story.

There's other breaking news we're following. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: All right. There's breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. CNN learning that new information about the leaders of this al Qaeda offshoot known as the Khorasan group, information suggesting the leaders are alive, despite those U.S. airstrikes.

Barbara Starr is standing by at the Pentagon. Pamela Brown is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Pamela, first to you. What are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're learning that U.S. intelligence officials believe that two of the main operatives in this Khorasan group are still alive and actively plotting. They believe that the group's leader actually who used to be in Osama bin Laden's circle, Muhsin al-Fadhli, is alive and able to escape the strikes against Khorasan back in September and another man, David Drugeon, French jihadist and key member, who is believed to be a skilled bomb maker, they believe that he is also alive and actively plotting. The U.S. does not know with certainty at this point of they are injured.

Also, an intelligence analyst tells me my colleague Barbara Starr that -- this person has acknowledged of the intelligence tells CNN that's 99.5 percent certain that these two main operatives are alive. Now, there had been scattered press reports about this, but now, Wolf, we are learning that it is -- it seems like they are alive and actively plotting.

So, the most definitive we are hearing from U.S. officials, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's go to Barbara Starr at Pentagon.

Barbara, you are getting new information. Tell our viewers what you are hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, why does this matter and why is it important to know these men, where they are and what they are up to. The Khorasan group is basically core al Qaeda members that left Pakistan years ago, went to Syria and are currently actively plotting attacks against Europe and the United States.

This is the big concern for the administration, to find these people and get to them and stop them. They have the ability, it is believed, to make bombs and they have learned it from al Qaeda in Yemen to make bombs that can get past airport security. So, this is a huge issue.

One of these men, David Drugeon, is a French jihadist. He has connections back into Europe. He is believed to very actively be working with his own bomb-making expertise to run jihadist in and out of that European rat line between the continent and Syria.

There is a great deal of concern. If they didn't get them the night of the strikes on September 22nd, where are they exactly right now and how do they get them?

BLITZER: Well, do they have an up-to-date assessment on the damage from those -- with Tomahawk cruise missiles that went in there, they thought they were really going to knock out this Khorasan group's leadership, but clearly, they didn't?

STARR: They did not. The U.S. Navy struck with nearly 50 tomahawk missiles weapons and destroyed a number of buildings, pardon me. But as the head, the former head of counterterrorism in the U.S. just told our own Jim Sciutto a couple of days ago, the Khorasan group is still very active, very much a factor, very much a worry to the U.S.

And now, tonight, we know why. We know that they are working now, that 99.5 is one official said to me, is that these two men are alive and they may be injured but they also may be very involved in active plotting, recruiting, working with al Qaeda in Yemen and running operatives in and out of Europe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Lisa Monaco, the president's adviser on counterterrorism, told me just the other day that this Khorasan Group represents an imminent threat, imminent threat to the United States.

Pamela, what are you hearing about this French jihadist?

BROWN: Well, we are learning a lot about the French jihadist. You know, before this, U.S. officials haven't publicly acknowledged him much, but he is one of the key bomb makers in the group, Wolf. And, in fact, he is believed to be such a big threat because of that and because of his involvement with facilitating the movement of fighters back and forth from Europe and in planning attacks in Europe. As I mentioned, his name has not been widely circulated. But what's

so concerning here is that he is believed to have been involved with the threat over the summer with producing easily concealed bombs that could go on to airliners. So, you might remember, back over the summer, security at overseas airports was increased because of the concern of the easily concealed bombs and that was emanating from the Khorasan group, and it is believed that Drugeon was a part of that, that he was helping to build this easily concealed bomb.

And so, of course, Wolf, the big concern here is that as we speak, he is actively plotting with other members of the Khorasan group. It's interesting to note here, too, I've been speaking with a lot of intelligence officials, Wolf, and the concern was that there was reporting about the Khorasan group leading up to the strikes and the concern was they changed their tactics and moves the location of where they were before the strikes and that is why so many of them were able to escape.

BLITZER: The Khorasan group, Barbara, what is the connection between this Khorasan group and al Qaeda?

STARR: Look, Wolf, the general thinking in the intelligence community is this is a small but deadly number of individuals that were, pardon me, part of al Qaeda core back in Pakistan, back in the day, if you will. And over the last couple of years, perhaps up to half a dozen of them have moved into Syria, transiting some of them, transiting through Iran to get to Syria.

The U.S. has been tracking several of them for months now. They believe that they brought bomb-making expertise with them, that they have learned from al Qaeda in Yemen, and it's master bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, how to make these bombs.

So, here's the problem, if they can match up that bomb-making expertise in Syria, which is basically a free fire zone right now, they can do what they want. If they can match up that bomb-making expertise and move operators back into Europe, and possibly getting on planes to the United States, this is the big worry. This is why you see the phrase imminent threat. It's the fact that these people have the expertise, they have the man power and they have got to find them now.

BLITZER: And remember, 24 hours ago, the secretary of homeland security, Pamela, announced -- this is Jeh Johnson -- that the U.S. was going to step up security precautions at all federal buildings, nearly 10,000 federal buildings here in Washington, D.C., and around the country, because of fears of terrorism, if you will.

BROWN: Right.

BLITZER: I suspect this Khorasan threat is one of the reasons he may have decided that.

BROWN: Right. It's a multi-prong threat here, Wolf. You have the Khorasan group, which we have known be an imminent threat, even right after the strikes, we've heard James Comey, the head of the FBI, say that, that they pose an imminent threat. So, you have that. Plus, this chatter from ISIS members, especially in recent weeks, targeting -- you know, asking for lone wolf attacks against government officials. So, you have all that combined and it's no wonder that they are so concerned.

BLITZER: All right. Pamela Brown, Barbara Starr, excellent reporting from both of you. We'll stay of this story for our viewers.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.