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Malaysia Airlines Crash; Need A Credible Investigation; International Backlash Could Be Severe; Press Conference with John Kirby

Aired July 18, 2014 - 13:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Let's reset now at the top of the hour.

I'm Anderson Cooper. Thank you for joining us. If you're watching here in the United States or around the world, we're following two major breaking stories that the hour. The downing, of course, of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that killed 298 people in Ukraine.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Jerusalem. The other major story, the breaking story we were following, the crisis in Gaza, where Israel launched a major ground offensive and it continues.

COOPER: A lot to get you up to date on in this hour. President Obama today laying out the priorities in the aftermath of the airline crash in the Ukraine. The priorities are learning the truth first, he says, then acting.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There has to be a credible international investigation into what happened. The U.N. Security Council has endorsed this investigation and we will hold all its members, including Russia, to their word. In order to facilitate that investigation, Russia, pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine must adhere to an immediate cease-fire. Evidence must not be tampered with. Investigators need to access to the crash site. And the solemn task of returning those lost on board the plane to their loved ones needs to go forward immediately.


COOPER: Well, here's what we know so far from the crash scene. When Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 went down yesterday, most of the people on board, 189, were from the Netherlands, many were from Malaysia and Australia. President Obama today identified, by name, one American who was also killed. The airline announcing today that they will make an initial cash payment of $5,000 to the family of each passenger. It sounds like a very little amount of money. The (INAUDIBLE) they say is meant to cover travel expenses, immediate expenses, to the crash side.

And a major clue, the audio recording that Ukrainian officials say they intercepted between pro-Russian rebels operating eastern Ukraine. And one of the voices on the tape describing debris falling from the sky and saying, quote, "he's 100 percent sure the plane is a civilian aircraft." The question, of course, did anyone know it was a civilian aircraft before they shot it down? No evidence of that, at this point.

Whichever side of the Ukraine conflict is ultimately found responsible, this crash and these deaths were not involved in that conflict. An Asian airliner filled with nearly 300 people from all over the world was destroyed and everyone agrees that there will be some sort of a backlash, certainly some impact.

Jim Sciutto is our Chief National Security Correspondent. The question now is where will that backlash come, who will feel it, and what form will it take, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, most likely Russia. But the president clearly treading very carefully here in his comments at White House, saying that we have to be certain first of exactly what happened. And so, they're taking their time. But, more and more, the evidence coming from the U.S. side and the Ukrainian side points to some Russian involvement. The president said so in so many words. He said that this, in his words, is not an accident. A plane cannot be shot down without sophisticated equipment.

And he says that sophisticated equipment, including anti-aircraft missiles, are coming from Russia. We're just learning now that the working theory of U.S. intelligence now is that this missile system, which both U.S. and Ukrainian officials was response -- believe was responsible for taking down this passenger yet, this Buk system we've talked a lot about, Anderson, that it was supplied to the rebels by Russia. That is a -- that would be a shocking revelation, if confirmed, because it means that Russia would not just be indirectly responsible for this but directly responsible. And that means greater consequences. The trouble is how severe are those consequences? Just a day before this crash, president --

COOPER: Jim, I'm sorry. Jim, I've just got to interrupt you. There's a Pentagon briefing. I just want to go to that live. We'll come back to you.

JOHN KIRBY, REAR ADMIRAL, PENTAGON REPRESENTATIVE (live): -- for these Russian separatists. And that support has -- and that support has included arms, material and training. As we investigate who did this and why, this terrible tragedy underscores the need for Russia to take immediate and concrete steps to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine and to support the Ukrainian government's plan for a seize-fire and peace settlement.

And I have one update on Cape Ray. The crew aboard the motor vessel, Cape Ray, continue their work to neutralize materials from Syria's declared chemical stockpile, using the installed field deployable hydrolysis systems. As of this morning, the crew has neutralized just over 15 percent of the D.F., which is a Sarin precursor. This amount has been verified by the international organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons. With that, I'll take your questions. COOPER: He's no longer talking about the -- about the aircraft

itself. Actually, let's listen as he is taking questions. Let's just see --

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Can you talk a little bit about the transfer --

COOPER: Yes, let's listen in.

STARR: -- that you have seen of Russian heavy weapons across the border into Ukraine and the president spoke about training, all of that. Can you go through this and tell us the latest U.S. assessment, U.S. military assessment, of what the Russians have been doing in transferring heavy weapons, surface-to-air missiles, artillery, other heavy weapons across the border, to separatists on the Ukraine side and the training and assistance that you believe Russian elements, the Russian military, is giving to these separatists.

KIRBY: We see no hint that Russian support for the separatists has ceased. In fact, we believe that Russia continues to provide them with heavy weapons and other military equipment, financing as well. And they continue to allow these Russian fighters to enter the Ukraine freely. There have been -- as you know, we've acknowledged that some tanks, armored personnel vehicles have made their way across the border. It is a -- it has been a steady concerted campaign by Russia's military to continue to support and resource, advise these separatists.

STARR: Have you seen -- there is some video out there and I don't know that you've seen the particular video. Have you seen evidence that an SA-11 or Buk missile system would cross the border, at some point, from Russia into Ukraine, and what can you tell us about that system and the sophistication and training that would be needed by Russian separatists to actually be able to operate it effectively?

KIRBY: I don't have specific information about a Buk system making that transit. We're not ruling anything in or out, at this point. It is -- it is a sophisticated -- that said, it is a sophisticated system. The missile itself, the SA-11 which is the one we believe was used to down Flight 17, is a sophisticated piece of technology. And it strains credulity to think that it could be used by separatists without at least some measure of Russian support and technical assistance.

STARR: They didn't just do it on their own?

KIRBY: I said it strains credulity to think that they could do this without some measure of Russian support and assistance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have evidence of that?

KIRBY: I -- look, there's a lot that's going to be investigated and I think we want to -- we want to let investigators do their work. I don't have an indication now that a system was brought over and we don't exactly know who is responsible for firing that missile or with -- or with what assistance. What I'm saying is that system is fairly sophisticated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, what is -- what is the -- what is the level of their training and assistance? Does it include Russian forces going across the border into the Ukraine to work as advisers or trainers side by side with the separatists?

KIRBY: Well, there have been Russian -- I mean, there have been incursions across the border by Russian aircraft. So, I mean, I think we have -- we don't have any reason to suspect that they -- that they haven't provided some measure of support on the other side of that border. I mean, these paramilitary forces that we don't talk about as much anymore. Certainly didn't act or behave or won't organize their resource like some ragtag militia.

So, nobody's suggesting that Russian military advice and assistance hasn't somehow crossed that border. It's just unclear exactly how much and when and who. And, again, that's what the investigators are going to look at and we got to let them do that -- Justin (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, then, are we to believe it was just a coincidence that the president announced sanctions directly on the maker of this Buk system just the day before?

KIRBY: I won't get into the thought process behind the president's specific decisions. But, clearly, these are another round of targeted sanctions designed to change the calculous in president's Putin's behavior and his decision making. What you're -- if -- well, I seem to think what you're suggesting is that the --


KIRBY: I have no information that that's the case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And second question, what's the working theory about the intent? Was this an intended military target gone awry or was this simply an act of terrorism, perhaps?

KIRBY: We don't know. Again, that's what we've got to let investigators figure out. We don't know what the motive was here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you have -- what is your theory? What is your working theory?

KIRBY: I don't think we have a working theory, at this point, Justin. I mean, this just happened yesterday. There's teams of investigators now trying to get to the site and pore through this. I mean, it's -- we just have to let them do their job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Admiral, people in this department have said before that there were about 10,000 to 12,000 regular Russian troops inside the Russian side of the border which is a build-up from a couple of weeks ago. Is that still your estimate? Have those forces changed since this attack yesterday? And can you tell us about, you know, as much as you can, what they're doing or what their posture is, in terms of a potential incursion? KIRBY: Yes, that's a great question. I don't know of any major

change to that presence. It's roughly still about 10,000 to 12,000 and it fluctuates a little bit from week to week. But the point is, it has been, over time, a steady increase of these combined arms tactical battalions across the border on the Russian side but to the southeast of Ukraine. And they are close to the border. In many cases, closer than those forces who were more aligned along the east.

If you remember, we had, you know, 10s of thousands that were -- that were along the eastern border with Ukraine but not as close as these units appear to be. All they're doing is further escalating tension. It's difficult to know what the intent is. And that's a question you should ask the Russian ministry of defense. But they're there. They're growing in size week by week. And they continue to do nothing more than just escalate the tensions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, the forces providing the weapons and support that you described a minute ago to the separatists or is that process separate from these regular --

KIRBY: I haven't seen any indication that they are actively involved in the provision of support to the separatists. I haven't seen that. But they are continuing to mass alongside that southern part of the border -- Justin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two questions. Do -- that massing of forces, does that include air defense artillery systems like the SA-11 that was used in Malaysian, have you seen air defense equipment on the Russian side of the border in that build-up?

KIRBY: I don't have an inventory of what they've got with them, Justin. But, as I said, they're -- we assessed that these are combined arms units. In other words, it's not just infantry troops but they have artillery capability. They've got armored capability. I mean, they're combined arms. And they're very ready. This is a very capable force, though smaller in number than what was aligned along the border before. But I don't have a complete inventory of what they've got.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so, you have an estimate of about 12,000 Russian troops on the border in the Russian side. Obviously, the U.S. has been tracking, you know, the work of Russian special operations forces, Russian advisers, Russian intelligence services in Ukraine. Is there an estimate of the size of that advisory presence inside the eastern Ukraine by Russian forces? Is it a handful? Is it a thousand guys?

KIRBY: I don't have the number for you on that. I mean -- and that's less important than the fact that they continue to do it. And we continue to see this support and resourcing and advice given to these separatist groups. And we have every indication to -- that that support is Russian, coming from the Russians.


KIRBY: We believe that there are -- there is Russian support for the separatists inside Ukraine, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Admiral, when General Reglug (ph) was here a couple weeks ago, he said specifically that the Ukrainian separatists were receiving training on Russian territory on using what he called vehicle born anti-aircraft systems. How much training -- can you elaborate, has that intensified in recent weeks, and was he specifically referring to an SA-11 type system?

KIRBY: Well, I don't know exactly what system he was referring to but we would agree with the assessment that they -- that some separatists have received some training in these vehicle born systems. There's no question about that. But I don't have -- I mean, I don't have an estimate of how many or who's doing it. I just don't know right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That had to raise particular alarms, wouldn't it? I mean, it's one thing, small arms, things like -- but, you know, vehicle born anti-aircraft systems, that's pretty serious.

KIRBY: Yes, it is pretty serious. And we've been taking it seriously. And we've been monitoring the situation there as closely as we can. And we've been -- nobody in the Pentagon has been shy about talking about the continued threat posed by these separatist elements inside Ukraine or, frankly, by those combined arms forces that continue to -- continue to amass along the border -- Phil (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has the pentagon or U.S. government increased its surveillance of the area along the border in the wake of this disaster?

KIRBY: I would just say that we're monitoring events as closely as we can. And I really don't have any more to add than that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't want to say whether it's increased or not?

KIRBY: We're monitoring events as closely as we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, going back to the General Reglug's comments. Were there any warnings given to the commercial airline companies or any civilian airline authorities about the existence or this level of training for those taking place --

KIRBY: There was a notice to air -- to airmen put out, I think you guys know that, that -- warning civilian aircraft to fly -- to take care over the skies of Ukraine and to fly at higher altitudes. I'm not an expert on that process, but there was an international notice to civilian air carriers about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And was that prompted by what General Breedlove said was the training of vehicle-borne --

KIRBY: I'd -- you'd have to talk to the FAA and other agencies that handle that. I don't know what prompted it. But I think it was obviously, if you're going to issue a warning like that, it's based on concerns that you have about surface to air missile activity and capabilities. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know you said that you don't know what the intent was of whoever fired the missile yet, but were there any indications that there were other airlines, perhaps military planes, Ukrainian military planes, in the sky at that time? And also, is there any concern -- the president keeps saying if Putin wants to stop this, he can. Are there any concerns that perhaps this is a situation that is poised to spiral out control and perhaps Russia doesn't have the control of the separatists? And, if so, how are you preparing?

KIRBY: On your first question, I don't know. I don't have - I mean this is Ukrainian airspace controlled by Ukrainian authorities. And I'd refer you to them to speak about that else was flying in the air at the time. I just don't have that level of visibility. We just wouldn't have that here.

On your second question, I think the president's been very clear about what the responsibilities and obligation of President Putin and Moscow are right now, which is to de-escalate the tension, to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine and to cease the support for the separatist activities, which, as I said at the outset, continues and, in some cases, is intensifying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even since yesterday's incidents?

KIRBY: Well, I mean, just yesterday, I don't know any big delta between their support from yesterday to today, but we haven't seen any sign that it's not -- that it's stopping.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Admiral, there had been, previous to yesterday's tragedy, there had been two or three, at least, Ukrainian transport planes shot down. Does your intelligence and your knowledge indicate that the system that shot down the plane yesterday was a more powerful, more sophisticated system requiring more training, or was it similar to the system that was used to shoot down the Ukrainian transport planes?

KIRBY: It's -- again, we're investigating this right now. It's unclear exactly what brought down the other aircraft you're talking about. I mean we know they were shot down, but those incidents are still being looked into. And I don't have any great visibility on what brought them down.

But I'd like to just kind of bring you back to the larger point here is that these aircraft are being shot down. And while it's unclear exactly who's pulling the trigger here, it's pretty clear that it's doing nothing to de-escalate the tension inside Ukraine and to bring to this crisis a peaceful resolution. And now innocent people simply flying from one city to another have been killed and brought into this. So let's not lose sight of the big picture here. It matters a lot less, you know, exactly what system it was and a lot more that it happened and it needs to stop. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, just a quick follow, do you believe that

whoever shot this plane down could have mistaken it for a Ukrainian military transport?

KIRBY: I'm not going to get into the motivations, the intent, the reasoning that went into this. That's for the investigators to figure out. We simply don't have that level of detail at this point.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are there normally friend or foe measures on systems like this? And if in fact it was an accident, would that reveal a dangerous lack of training on the part of whoever was using it?

KIRBY: I don't know yet. I don't know. I'm not an expert on that system. I wouldn't begin to get up here and try to dissect it for you. Again investigators are going to pile through this and they'll figure that stuff out.

David (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly who are these investigators?

KIRBY: This is -- it will be -- it's an international investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But are they from -

KIRBY: But I don't - I -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the U.S. government, does it include DOD, does it include CIA, does it --

KIRBY: There's no plans for a -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justice? I mean -

KIRBY: There's no plans for -- right now for a DOD representative on this. I won't speak for other federal agencies. But I believe that there will be some other entities from the federal government of individuals going over there to participate in it. And I don't have the makeup of the team. It's -- it will be an international investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you anticipate --

KIRBY: I have no expectation right now that there will be a DOD representative on this team.

David (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president said he saw no role for the U.S. military in responding to this. But whatever happened to that list of requests for equipment that the Ukrainians sent at the beginning of this? KIRBY: Yes, we continue to review requests for Ukrainian - or Ukrainian requests for military assistance. The focus of that remains on the non-lethal side right now. And the -- some $33 million that the president has authorized of material has been getting to Ukrainian - the Ukrainian armed forces and border services. So the support continues to flow. We continue to take a look at their needs and addressing each in turn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last I remember, it was MREs. Is there any -- do you have a more complete list?

KIRBY: Yes, there's been - there's been more.


KIRBY: The recent deliveries include radios, body armor, individual first aid kits, sleeping mats, uniform items. Over the next few months, additional items will start move through the procurement process to include night vision goggles, thermal imagers, Kevlar helmets, explosive ordinance disposal robots and some additional radios. And there's been some other equipment given to Ukraine's border guards. Barbed wire, alarms systems, excavators, trucks, generators, that kind of thing, communications gear. And, again, all of this is a part of a package of more than $33 million now that the president has approved. And that stuff continues to flow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) haven't gotten here yet and why -

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Listening to a spokesman at the Pentagon. I want to bring in our Jim Sciutto. Want to bring in our Pentagon - or, excuse me, our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, significantly, one of the things that the spokesman from the Pentagon said earlier, said that it's strange credulity that they could do this without Russian assistance, that it was a fairly sophisticated device that was used, though they certainly don't know who pushed the trigger.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That was exactly the line I was thinking, Anderson, the most significant comments from that press conference. And it follows on with what the president was saying earlier, that this is not an accident, in the president's words, that they can't shoot -- the separatists couldn't shoot down this plane without sophisticated equipment. And that equipment's coming from Russia. And earlier in the day, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said something similar on the floor of the Security Council there, saying that these systems are complicated, that it's likely the separatists would have needed Russian help, Russian training.

And now in addition to that, Anderson, you have the U.S. intelligence community saying it's their working theory at this point that that missile system itself, the actual launcher, came across the border from Russia. And we have some audio that we've obtained, again from Ukrainian officials, seeming to show that that launcher came across the border. So that gives direct, as opposed to just indirect responsibility. It speaks to the question you asked me earlier, which is, who bears the consequence of this. The president, you know, going forward is going to have to -- you have to envision him marshalling support for stiffer sanctions against Russia.

COOPER: And, again, Jim, just to echo what you said, because yesterday there had been some thought that perhaps this was a system captured by pro-Russian rebels from the Ukrainian military. But as you just said, a senior defense official is telling CNN that the working theory among the U.S. intelligence community is the Russian military actually supplied this Buk surface to air missile system.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's a good question. And this is what I was told earlier in the day by a Ukrainian official. Their working theory is that this missile system came from a Ukrainian base in Crimea and that it was transferred from Crimea to eastern Ukraine, but via Russian territory. If you look at a map, it would kind of have to go from Ukraine, through -- you know, one route would be to take it through Russia. That was their working theory. I think that's one of the many questions that hasn't been established yet. But there is - there is at least some connection to Russia based on the statement from the Pentagon, the president, our U.N. ambassador, that they would at least need training to operate this thing as well and that adds more responsibility.

COOPER: We are going to talk, when we come back, to a reporter on scene at the crash site for the latest on exactly what's happening there. We'll be right back.


COOPER: If you were watching our coverage yesterday, you know we spoke to a Noah Sneider, who was one of the first journalists certainly at the crash site. He's joining me now on the phone. He's also spoken today to separatist fighters in the region.

Noah, I appreciate you joining us. You spent the night at the crash site. You were there this morning. What was the scene this morning when light finally broke?

NOAH SNEIDER, JOURNALIST IN DONETSK, UKRAINE (via telephone): Hi, Anderson. Thanks for having me.

The scene was a bit strange and surreal. It was quite empty. There was a group of emergency services workers who had also spent the night. They essentially pitched a tent camp. And they began working shortly after 7:00 a.m.. They all sort of lined up and took a slightly more organized approach to marking the landing sites of the bodies (INAUDIBLE) field (ph). They'd actually had some maps out and they split up the territory. But at the same time, it wasn't a sophisticated approach. They were still tying white cotton to stakes and basically walking through the fields and marking these spots. And the local population started emerging from their homes. People in the village down below sort of walking their cows and trying to make sense of what had happened. Many of them still in deep shock.

COOPER: There had been some reports of possible looting or removal of items or removal even of debris. Did you see any of that?

SNEIDER: I myself didn't. I spoke to a colleague who had been sort of at the outskirts of the perimeter and saw a few guys going through suitcase that had fallen from the sky and talking about whether to take a guide book.