November 29th, 2015
11:59 AM ET

McCaul on finding Abdeslam: "I do think they're closing in on him, and that's the good news"

SOTU

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Congressman and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul, joined anchor, Brianna Keilar.

 

For more information, see http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/. Also, text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.

 

MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”

 

Contacts: Lauren Pratapas — Lauren.Pratapas@turner.com; 202.465.6666; Zachary Lilly – Zachary.Lilly@turner.com

 

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

 

McCaul on the investigation into finding Abdeslam: “I do think they're closing in on him, and that's the good news.  There are many involved in this plot.  It was a very sophisticated plot, an external operation that we have seen from ISIS.  You mentioned the bombing of the Russian airliner.  This is a new ISIS, a new chapter, for them to be able to conduct three external operations in just recent times… I don't want to jeopardize an ongoing investigation that is so important. And, look, you know, Belgium, Paris, they have rounded up a lot of suspects right now.  They're really cracking down on security, as they should.  Europe is so wide-open, Brianna, because they had 5,000 Europeans that have gone to Iraq and Syria with Western passports, many of whom have come back.”

 

McCaul on the threat of terror attacks in the United States: “I'm very concerned about this.  You know, we have ramped up security at last points of destination.  Those are direct flights into the United States.

But, Brianna, what happened at Sharm el-Sheikh was an insider threat.  This is one where someone is compromised or radicalized or perhaps bribed to put a piece of luggage, put a bomb on an airplane that is a worker at the airport. So we can have the best screening technology, but if we have an insider threat out there, that is very, very hard to stop.  And that kind of scenario playing on an airliner flying directly into the United States is what I'm most concerned about.  And ISIS now has demonstrated they have that capable that we only thought al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had. So this is something that now we're vetting employees I think a lot more strictly.  And I had a bill that passed out of congress to do that as well.  But this is one of the biggest threats to the aviation sector.”

 

McCaul reacts to the shooting in Colorado Springs: “Well, this is a horrible tragedy.  It doesn't advance the pro life movement, killing any lives doesn't advance that.  I think this is a case of mental illness.  We have found that under current law if you're adjudicated mentally defective you can't purchase a firearm.  What we found is that too many of these cases haven't gotten into the system like the Navy Yard shooter.  And I think we need to look at there's legislation to put more of this - more of these cases into the system so that we can try to prevent something like this. But, you know, I mean it's a sad event that, you know, I can see why women would be concerned.  And I know that with clinics that the security is being heightened.”

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

 

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR:  President Obama leaves for Paris this morning.  He will join over 150 heads of state to talk about climate change, but the specter of the gruesome terror attacks in the heart of Europe will hang over their trip.

 

The French government has arrested 300 people since the attacks in Paris, and police are still hunting for Salah Abdeslam, one of the terrorists who fled.

 

Joining me now is Congressman Michael McCaul.  He's a Republican from Texas.  He's also the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.  So, we're hoping to get some information about some of the latest that we're hearing out of Paris.

 

Mr. Chairman, do you know anything about whether investigators may be closer to finding Abdeslam?  Do you think that they have a sense of whether he's still in Europe or if, instead, he may have made his way to Syria?

 

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS:  Well, I can't get into that level of specificity.  I don't want to compromise their investigation.

 

I do think they're closing in on him, and that's the good news.  There are many involved in this plot.  It was a very sophisticated plot, an external operation that we have seen from ISIS.  You mentioned the bombing of the Russian airliner.  This is a new ISIS, a new chapter, for them to be able to conduct three external operations in just recent times.

 

We're very concerned about their capability against the United States as well.

 

KEILAR:  So, you're saying that authorities are closing in on this terrorist at large in Europe or perhaps in Syria at this point.

 

I guess, can you talk about that a little further?  Why - you're basically saying you're encouraged about where this investigation has gone.

 

MCCAUL:  I am, but, obviously, I don't want to jeopardize an ongoing investigation that is so important.

 

And, look, you know, Belgium, Paris, they have rounded up a lot of suspects right now.  They're really cracking down on security, as they should.  Europe is so wide-open, Brianna, because they had 5,000 Europeans that have gone to Iraq and Syria with Western passports, many of whom have come back.

 

And the Paris attacks were the classic case of the foreign fighter.  The United States, we have had hundred of them travel over there, and 50 have come back to the United States.  So, I think Europe has a far greater problem than we have in the United States.

 

However, we still have made many arrests in the United States, over 70 ISIS followers last year.  We have 1,000 investigations in all 50 states.  So, we take it very seriously in the homeland as well.

 

KEILAR:  Let's talk about how Europe's problem could become the problem of the U.S.

 

CNN was actually able to see a document from the French Interior Ministry this week, and it has intelligence that shows concern for the radicalization of airport workers.  Stunningly, this goes all the way back to 2004, more than a decade past.  And a source is telling us that more than 100 public transit workers have left for Syria since 2012.

 

How concerned are you about airport workers getting a bomb onto a U.S.-bound flight?  I mean, we're talking about cities where they have direct flights to the U.S.

 

MCCAUL:  I - yes, I'm very concerned about this.  You know, we have ramped up security at last points of destination.  Those are direct flights into the United States.

 

But, Brianna, what happened at Sharm el-Sheikh was an insider threat.  This is one where someone is compromised or radicalized or perhaps bribed to put a piece of luggage, put a bomb on an airplane that is a worker at the airport.

 

So we can have the best screening technology, but if we have an insider threat out there, that is very, very hard to stop.  And that kind of scenario playing on an airliner flying directly into the United States is what I'm most concerned about.  And ISIS now has demonstrated they have that capable that we only thought al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had.

 

So this is something that now we're vetting employees I think a lot more strictly.  And I had a bill that passed out of congress to do that as well.  But this is one of the biggest threats to the aviation sector.

 

KEILAR:  Are you confident that the U.S. will be able to stop a threat like this especially when it seems like this is very old intelligence that may or may not have been shared or certainly been a concern for the U.S.

 

MCCAUL:  Well, we know that originally they wanted to target a western airliner.  When Russia invaded the region into Syria they turned their sights on to Russia.  But you know, al-Baghdadi when he was released from prison in Iraq, in his words he said "I'll see you in New York."  So, that shows you the intent behind ISIS.

 

Do they have the capability?  I think their capabilities have ramped up recently far beyond what we thought they were capable of doing.  And I think the bottom line is until we deal with that threat where it exists, until we drain the swamp in Syria, with the swamp is going to come to the United States.  And I think that's with a we need to be focused on.

 

Our national defense authorization bill requires a president to come up with a strategy to defeat and destroy ISIS.  Present that to the congress.  So hopefully while he's talking about climate change in Paris, he's also talking about how can the NATO forces and the U.S. coalition forces and possibly the Russians work to defeat and destroy ISIS.

 

KEILAR:  I want to ask you before I let you go about Friday's shooting in Colorado Springs.  The shooter there at the Planned Parenthood clinic made reference to baby parts after he was arrested.  Planned Parenthood calling this an act of domestic terror.  Do you think that women are safe going to Planned Parenthood clinics?

 

MCCAUL:  Well, this is a horrible tragedy.  It doesn't advance the pro life movement, killing any lives doesn't advance that.  I think this is a case of mental illness.  We have found that under current law if you're adjudicated mentally defective you can't purchase a firearm.  What we found is that too many of these cases haven't gotten into the system like the Navy Yard shooter.  And I think we need to look at there's legislation to put more of this - more of these cases into the system so that we can try to prevent something like this.

 

But, you know, I mean it's a sad event that, you know, I can see why women would be concerned.  And I know that with clinics that the security is being heightened.

 

KEILAR:  Yeah, we know that's happening in a number of cities.

 

Congressman McCaul, thanks so much for being with us, really appreciate your time this morning.

 

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