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Crisis in Ukraine; Ping Search Continues; Interview With Florida Senator Marco Rubio; Desperate Underwater Search for Plane Pings; History of the "Black Box"

Aired April 8, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Does it strike anyone else as a little odd that Russia is warning Ukraine of a coming civil war, when Russia is the one amassing at the border?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, pro-Russian rebels said to have taken hostages inside Ukraine, Russian troops poised menacingly at Ukraine's border. We will ask our guest, Senate Foreign Relations and possible 2016 presidential candidate Marco Rubio, will a warship and more threats from the U.S. get Russia's attention?

Also in world news, it was called the most promising lead in the search for Flight 370, but searchers lost the signal that they picked up in the water and they haven't found it again. So what can they do to keep this trail from going cold?

Plus, so much of this search is hinged on spotting debris from the missing plane, but not a scrap has yet been found. Is that because the plane is still in one piece under the ocean's surface?

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

We will begin to the world lead, threats to Ukraine from within and without. Outside, Vladimir Putin is amassing up to 40,000 Russian troops near the border. Inside, pro-Russian protesters are tearing at the seams of Ukraine's fledging government. As we speak, Ukraine's security service claims Pro-Russia demonstrators are holding 60 people hostage and have wired explosives inside a Ukrainian government building they seized in Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine.

The protesters, however, well, they deny all of that, according to Reuters. Whom to believe? Luhansk is just one of three cities gripped by pro-Russia uprisings in Eastern Ukraine, though Ukrainian special police did retake one of the government buildings that protesters seized in Kharkiv and they arrested 70 people.

Ukrainian police are cracking down with force against these demonstrators, but the Russian Foreign Ministry is warning Ukraine's government against harming ethnic Russians inside Ukraine's own borders. Russia issued a statement reading in part -- quote -- "We call immediately for the halt of any military preparations which risks the outbreak of civil war." Kind of an odd warning, and yet Moscow denies any role in sowing the dissent inside Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry, however, well, he didn't seem to be buying that today when he testified today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos in the last 24 hours. Some have even been arrested and exposed. And equally as clear must be the reality that the United States and our allies will not hesitate to use 21st century tools to hold Russia accountable for 19th century behavior.


TAPPER: Well, 21st century tools. What are some of these 21st century tools?

Well, a U.S. warship is expected to make a show of presence entering the Black Sea no later than Thursday, according to two U.S. military officials. The U.S. is deploying F-16 fighter jets to Romania for "exercises." It's also sending 175 more Marines to Romania to bolster the current force there of 265. Also, there are U.S. fighter jets in both Latvia and Lithuania.

Kerry also today threatened to sanction Russia even further until it hurts. Will Russia listen, after Putin already took Crimea from Ukraine and put it in his pocket as easily as it he did a certain Super Bowl ring?

Let's bring in Nick Paton Walsh live on the ground in Donetsk, Ukraine.

Nick, good to see you.

There are conflicting reports about this possible hostage situation. What do we know for certain?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have seen social media videos from inside this Ukrainian security service building taken by a number of pro-Russian activists that shows them armed and in fact defiantly saying, come on and try and take us if you think you can, saying that they are actually veterans of the Afghan war.

But the more troubling developments, the suggestion that they have taken up to 60 people hostage and wired the building. There is no independent evidence to that effect at this point, purely what Ukrainian officials are saying. We're in the depth of an extraordinarily complex and messy information war here.

But without to belittle the fate of those hostages inside, Jake, the real issue here is when you hear these deeply troubling reports, it just brings closer the possibility that the Russian Foreign Ministry will make good on its threats to intervene to protect what it refers to as compatriots. They have been talking about constitutional reform or federalizing parts of Ukraine of late, but really underlying all of that is sort of a slight menace of these 40,000 troops. I say slight, 40,000 troops at the border, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Nick, let's talk about where you are in Donetsk, Ukraine. Protesters took over one government building and turned it into their headquarters. What is the situation there now?

WALSH: Well, I have just been walking by it in the last hour.

And I can tell you it's still very much under protesters' control and by the hour they grow more entrenched there. They are not particularly organized, but they are also quite good at making their presence felt there.

We have switch-back rows of tires there and razor wire, very much dug in. They feared an assault last night. And they're there in numbers, lacking a leader or a real plan, but certainly not going anywhere until they get what they want, which is to join Russia -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much. Please stay safe.

On the committee that heard testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry today, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

Earlier today, I had a chance to sit down with Senator Rubio in his Capitol Hill office. He has different notions on how the Obama administration should be handling the Ukrainian crisis.


TAPPER: Secretary of State John Kerry testified today that the administration believes these protests going on in Eastern Ukraine are fake and a pretext for Russia to invade.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Well, certainly, I think we have seen evidence of that, even beginning with Crimea, where you see the Russians send agents and other trained elements to stir the sort of pretext for any sort of intervention.

And there's strong evidence of that. And I'm glad he said that today publicly. I think we have suspected that for quite a bit of time.

TAPPER: Do you think Putin takes seriously threats of consequences from Kerry and Obama?

RUBIO: Well, what Putin is weighing, right, is the costs and the benefits.

I think he feels he can wait out international sanctions, that, eventually, many of these things that have been put in place will have to be removed, but that it is critical for his own survival and for his ambitions for Russia that he in fact show his ability to engage and interfere in the affairs of countries that near his border.

He's trying to restore Russia, in his mind, as a great power. And part of that, in his mind, is the ability to have a disproportionate amount of influence over what happens in the countries that surround Russia.

And so I think he continues to go through this cost-benefit analysis. The challenge for us and the international community of course is, how can we change that calculus? How can we in fact bring enough pressure from the cost side to tilt that balance away from further incursions? And, again, I think we're going to have to be more aggressive in terms of the sanctions that are being undertaken in order to do that.

TAPPER: What do you think the U.S. should be doing that the Obama administration is not?

RUBIO: I think that now there is the time to sit down and calculate with our European allies a long-term strategy to break the sort of dependence on the oil and natural gas from Russia that gives them a disproportionate amount of leverage over these countries.

Certainly, the U.S. can play some of a role -- somewhat of a role in that in terms of exports. But I think, ultimately, you need to see countries like Norway and others step up and produce more.

TAPPER: Some of your fellow Republican senators are calling for military aid to the Ukrainian military. Do you agree?

RUBIO: I do.

I think that improving their capabilities to provide for their own self-defense is critical. So, I'm not sure they will ever be able to match Russian capability conventionally, or obviously beyond that. But I certainly think they can improve their capabilities to make any sort of incursion into their territory very costly.

And -- but, again, that's a long-term and ongoing process, which ultimately involves training and all of the things that come with truly creating a capacity for a country.

TAPPER: How do you see Putin? Is he a threat to the United States?

RUBIO: I think Putin has a -- the way to understand Vladimir Putin is he very clearly views the end of the Soviet Union as a tragic thing that happened and that he views that, as a result of that, Russia has lost its influence in the world.

I think he himself as a historic figure that's going to restore Russia to its rightful place, in his mind, as a global power. And the beginning of that is the ability to basically have influence and leverage over all the countries in there near and abroad.

And so you saw that, of course, expressed in Georgia a few years ago. You see it now in Ukraine. You see the threats potentially to Moldova moving forward. So, I think that's how he views himself. And we need to cognizant of it.

The approach this administration has taken and somewhat the Bush administration is to try to convince Putin that this is not a win/lose proposition, that Russia could benefit, as well as the U.S. He clearly hasn't bought into that. We need to be aware of it.

He views this whole scenario as a zero sum game, either they win or we win. We wish he didn't feel that way, but he does. And as a result, we need to behave accordingly.

TAPPER: You're going to New Hampshire in May. I don't imagine it's for the weather. You really haven't made much of a secret that you're contemplating -- haven't made the decision, but contemplating a run for president in 2016.

The former head of the Florida GOP, who is now the head of the American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas, said that this is Jeb Bush's only window, but you are going to have a lot of windows of opportunity to run for president.

How much will Jeb Bush's decision play a role in your decision?

RUBIO: Well, a couple things I would say.

The first is, we have an interest in New Hampshire because there's an important Senate race there. It's where a good friend, Scott Brown, is going to run, and I believe is going to win. And we want to be helpful to that endeavor.

Beyond that...


TAPPER: I'm sure I will see you in Montana soon then as well.


RUBIO: Yes, potentially.

And the other thing I would say about that is, look, I have got a decision to make in 2016 irrespective. Unlike other people, I'm up for reelection that year. So, I have to decide whether to run for the Senate again, run for some other office like the presidency, or perhaps move into the private sector.

I don't want to serve in politics for the rest of my life. And so that's a decision I have to make based on my own personal criteria. And it's a multifaceted one, on everything from your family to whether you truly are running for the right reasons, and you know clearly what you would do when you would win, and you believe you have a message that is important for the country and appeals to our people.

Jeb and other potential candidates have their own criteria. In my mind, when people decide to run for an office of that magnitude, they do so based on their own criteria, not what someone else is going to do. And I would imagine Jeb would tell you the exact same thing. His decision and the decision of many other people who are being speculated about is not going to be based about whether someone else is going to run or not.

And so that's how I think about the issue and continue to analyze it. TAPPER: It's tough to imagine both of you on the same stage, though, running against each other.

RUBIO: Well, I wouldn't speculate about what that would look like or what that would entail.

I have tremendous admiration for Jeb Bush. He has been a big part of our career. We have worked together for many years, was a great governor of Florida. Many of his staff members came to work for me when I was speaker of the House.

So, I don't think, if I decide to run for president, it's a reflection on him, or if he decides to run, it would be a reflection on me. As I said, people make decisions about an office of that magnitude based upon their own conditions, not what someone else is going to decide to do.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Senator Marco Rubio.

Coming up next: two separate signals and then nothing as the search for missing Flight 370 continues. Investigators are desperate to hear those pings again. but why weren't those two signals enough to pinpoint the location?

Plus, black boxes have been mandatory in planes for decades. So, how has the technology changed since that very first data recorder?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

With every passing seconds since those underwater pulses faded away in the Indian Ocean, so has the hope that search crews will find the black boxes from missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, signals that were detected over the weekend by an Australian Navy ship. Well, they have since gone silent. Without those pings, investigators fear they could now be years away from ever finding the plane, if they find it at all.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh has more.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the sound crews on board the Ocean Shield are desperately trying to find again. The Australian Defense Department released audio of the possible black box signal the towed pinger detected twice over the weekend.

Despite a continuous effort to recapture it -- still, nothing.

CMDR. WILLIAM MARKS, ABOARD USS BLUE BRIDGE: As the hours pass, our optimism is fading away ever so slightly.

MARSH: If it is Flight 370's black boxes, finding it again is the only way to pinpoint its location. The Ocean Shield moves about two miles per hour tracking back and forth around the clock. The towed pinger measures intensity, but not position. So, multiple hits are crucial in triangulating a smaller search area.

ANGUS HOUSTON, CHIEF COORDINATOR, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: It will be several more days. Now, until we stop the pinger search, we will not deploy the submersible. Is that clear? We will not deploy it unless we find -- unless we get another transmission.

MARSH: This is the submersible, Bluefin-21, the underwater drone moves along at a painstakingly slow pace, mapping the ocean floor. The pinger manufacturer is analyzing the recording. It's actually at 33.3 kilohertz, a lower transmission frequency than the standard 37.5, a change possibly due to environmental factors.

HOUSTON: If there's a change with the pressure on the ocean floor and the age of the particular batteries, the capacitance can change and you get changes in the transmission level.

MARSH: Meantime, they are guarding against noise interference, limiting the number of ships and aircrafts near the Ocean Shield, 375 miles away, search crews haven't given up hope on the other pinging sounds reported by the Chinese. Two search areas but so far neither has reacquired the sound they need.

(on camera): Australian officials say they will keep searching for that pinging sound until there is absolutely no doubt the pinger batteries have expired. That means roughly another 10 to 12 days or so -- Jake.


TAPPER: Thanks, Rene. The pings have not been heard in days, but that does not mean the batteries are absolutely out of juice. At least that's what investigators are hoping.

Let's bring in Fred Hegg, he's vice president of engineering at Falmouth Science Incorporated.

Fred, you have 30 years experience in designing underwater instruments like this. You say the location of the ship when it heard these pings could actually be miles from the actual source? How is that?

FRED HEGG, V.P. ENGINEERING, FALMOUTH SCIENTIFIC INC.: Yes. That's correct, Jake. What happens is, it's just like if you were towing your -- trolling a fishing lure. The vehicle is going to be two miles down but it's going to be a three to one ratio. So, the vehicle is really at the end of six miles of cable far back behind the ship. So -- and also that vehicle, because of the ocean currents, could be anywhere side to side, port, starboard, left, right along the ship. So it's very difficult to determine an exact location.

TAPPER: Now, Fred, the Australian ship with the U.S. naval equipment went back, tried to retrace the route where they heard the pingers. They did not pick anything up. Is it possible that the pingers are still transponding even though they weren't picked up the second time -- or the third time, rather, I should say?

HEGG: From what I understand, the first time that they did receive the pings was for a period of over two hours, which is pretty promising. But the -- then they -- what they would do is run a reciprocal line and, again, this vehicle could be anywhere plus or minus a mile or so left or right, port to starboard, along the same track. So it's my understanding is that they did hear it for about 15 minutes or so, which is promising.

But the fact that the frequency was so low, there's a couple of things that could affect that. One, the main thing is temperature. At the bottom of the ocean, the temperature is very cold. And that can shift the frequency down a little bit, a few percent.

But the other factor is the battery life. A lithium battery typically has a very flat response and as the battery dies, it's a very steep -- a very steep curve. And so, we -- it's possible that we could have been on that steep curve and heard the last gasps, so to speak, out of the black box pinger.

But there still is hope for the next few days to try and relocate the device.

TAPPER: Fred Hegg, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Coming up next, driven to find answers. Why the creator of the first black box had his own personal motivation for creating the recording device.

Plus, could the search for Flight 370 be so difficult because there's nothing left above the water. The one scenario that could have left the plane virtually in one piece as it made impact. That's ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

It's a desperate time for search crews now racing to rediscover signals that may be coming from the data recorders of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Those black boxes are something that you hear about every time there's a plane crash. They hold the answers to some of the biggest mysteries of modern times and quite often, they are the only survivors among the wreckage.


TAPPER (voice-over): Since they were first made mandatory nearly six decades ago, flight data recorders have supplied vital information about some of the world's most devastating airline disasters.

FORMER MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: Because these are the flight recorder boxes.

TAPPER: And after years in the spotlight, the orange recorders, termed "black boxes", have become synonymous with detailed information about downed crafts. A detailed record of the devices themselves, however, is lesser known. We know flight data recorders originated in France in 1939 using rudimentary photographs to document information.

In 1942, Finland introduced the first modern flight recorder, measuring more than half a dozen data points. The machine was dubbed the Mata Hari, named after the exotic dancer turned suspected double agent made famous in World War I.

In 1953, at Pakistan's Karachi airport --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To a revolutionary new aircraft.

TAPPER: One of the world's first jet-powered commercial airliners, the British Comet, suffered its first failed crash.

Australian fuel chemist David Warren was asked to help in the investigation. He had lost his own father in a similar wreck and was motivated to prevent more. In a 1985 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he explained his solution.

DR. DAVID WARREN, INVENTOR OF THE FLIGHT DATA RECORDER: I kept thinking to myself, if it were pilot error or something which were known to the crew, they may have said something or done something. If only we could recapture those last few seconds.

TAPPER: Warren's 1957 prototype not only recorded flight data, but pilot voices as well, a crucial development.

Over the past few decades, the recorders have grown increasingly sophisticated, allowing for more data in digital form.

JOHN HANSMAN, DIRECTOR, MIT INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR AIR TRANSPORTATION: The night data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder have been instrumental at improving the level of safety in air transportation.

TAPPER: In light of recent air disasters, some commentators have asked why the flight data is not sent contemporaneously to a ground location for safe keeping.

Well, there's a good answer to that.

HANSMAN: So, you don't really have good enough bandwidth to send all that information from the airplane down to the ground, particularly when you're out over the oceans.


TAPPER: Coming up next, weeks of searching on the surface of the water, still no debris had been found. What does that say about the possible way in which Flight 370 may have crashed? Could it still be intact under the water?