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Russia Shoring Up Military Power in the Artic; Prince Accused of Trying to Destabilize Jordan; Biden Looks for Bipartisan Support for Infrastructure Plan; Cyber Experts: Half a Billion Facebook Users' Data Posted Online; Japan's Cherry Blossoms See Earliest Peak in Decades. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 5, 2021 - 04:30   ET



PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: Russia is taking advantage of climate change to shore up its military power. It's testing new weapons in the Arctic in areas where there's been quite a bit of ice melt. And what the Russians are doing there could have major implications for the United States.

International security editor Nick Payton Walsh is with us from London, and he has his exclusive reporting. Nick, I noticed in the piece that you wrote for this, and encourage everyone to see it, that a senior State Department official told you that look, there's clearly a military challenge from the Russians in the Arctic.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Russia would say, look, it's our coastline. We'll do what we like there. But the U.S. concern is that this buildup -- and it quite startling, frankly, if you see the satellite images in the piece ahead. Occurring in an area where most agree the ice melt is happening so much faster than had been previously imagined. That build up is U.S. officials are concerned about projecting power across this newly freed up ice free area. Possibly in the decades ahead.

A key thing everyone talks about something called the northern sea route. Now that is potentially going to be able to halve almost the distance between Asia and Europe for good that would otherwise travel normally through the Suez Canal. Remember that's had some problems of late. So it's going a vital strategic thing in the years ahead. And it's a place where Russian is bringing in new technology and the large amount of military might to try, some say, to set the rules by getting there first.


WALSH (voice-over): It is the new frontier expanding for all the wrong reasons with pushy neighbors rushing in. Russia is seeing the Arctic ice melt fast and filling the gap with the military buildup, some of it on Alaska's doorstep not seen since the Cold War.

Here is a new generation of super weapons, like the Poseidon, a 120- mile an hour nuclear propelled stealth torpedo. It's designed, say Russian official, to sneak past U.S. coastal defenses and detonate a warhead, causing a radioactive tsunami to hit the east coast with contaminated water.

Experts told CNN the weapon is, quote, very real. It'll be tested in the summer near Norway, whose intelligence had said it's not only the ecological damage that could be bad.

VICE ADM. NILS ANDREAS STENSONES, NORWEGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF: It is in the testing phase. It's a strategic system and it's aimed at targets and has an influence far beyond the region in which they test it currently. That is a new -- it's something we need to get our hands around in the interim, and understand what they will release

WALSH (voice-over): Some said Russian President Vladimir Putin was fantasizing when he revealed this and other new weapons like the hypersonic Zircon missile in 2018, but continuing development and tests make them very real.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russia is projecting an image. It is developing new technology. And this, of course, is destabilizing the strategic balance.

HEATHER CONLEY, SVP FOR EUROPE, EURASIA AND THE ARCTIC, CSIS: They are now starting to develop those capabilities that could reach the United States and its NATO allies.

WALSH (voice-over): That is not all Russia is up to. CNN has obtained satellite images revealing the persistent buildup of Russian bases along its northern coastline, part of what the U.S. State Department officials called a military challenge.

Close to Alaska, at Provideniya and Wrangler Island, are two new radar stations were stationed in Anadyr, a quick reaction alert force of bombers and jets. West in Kotelny, a thin strip of land is seen over seven years the slow growth of a large air strip.

And in the Nagurskoye in the northernmost point is another base that sprung up since 2015, one of several in the arctic, decorated in the colors of the Russian flag.

Nagurskoye and the nearby airfield of Rogachevo are both home to make Mig-31 jets, recent arrivals. And further west, at Olenya Guba, on the Kola Peninsula, over the past four years, experts believe a storage facility has slowly been built up with the Poseidon torpedo.

WALSH: Russia has had its eye on being the arctic power for years and is now moving to make that happen.


Yes, this is its coastline, for sure, but U.S. officials have expressed concerns to me that this buildup is not just about protecting, it is also about projecting power across the ice, even towards the North Pole.

WALSH (voice-over): There are new resources to exploit under the ice, yes, but Russia released this video in January, of the first time a freighter got through the ice in the east in the thick winter to sell a new trade route along its northern coast. It's a possible money maker for the Kremlin, cutting the current journey time from Asia to Europe through the Suez Canal nearly in half.

CONLEY: The development of the Russian Arctic is absolutely essential to Russia's economic survival. But they do have a really ambitious vision for turning the (INAUDIBLE) as President Putin has said into the next Suez Canal.

WALSH (voice-over): U.S. officials voiced concern to CNN that Russia is already demanding ships use Russian crews and get permission to cross it. U.S. response to this has been swift to its ally, B1 bombers have flown out of Norway. U.S. Marines are training off in Norway's north. Yet there is a sudden rush, where for centuries there's been only bleak sheets of ice. Who gets there first make the rules they say, an ugly race now due to the climate crisis for a place nobody should want to be conquerable.


WALSH (on camera): Now it's important to point out that Russia -- although we asked their Foreign Ministry and Russian experts for comment, and they declined to give that. Russia has persistently said that it's goals in the arctic region, as I say, much of which is its own coastline you're looking at there, are economic entirely and peaceful. But you see there the extraordinary military buildup. They would say in their defense, because they're seeing what in the past, has been just a sheet wall of ice protecting Russia from its north. And why its north is so vital towards its nuclear defense strategy, that Russia, of course say we move there to put our defenses higher in.

The problem really is though, when you introduce these new super weapons that aren't guided or restrained by any of the treaties Russia is currently part of, there's an enormous scope for miscalculation for southern escalation. You see the B-1 Lancer bombers there being flown out of Norway.

The U.S. is concerned about how this is progressing so quickly and Russia's Western allies, Norway included, are deeply nervous about this new climate up there. Not only the physical ice one but the military one, too. So as the arctic becomes increasingly, tragically, and awfully something which you could possibly navigate across or stake a claim to because it's not just ice. This is a new area, whereas you see, arms are being raced in and as a potential for some flare up -- Paula.

NEWTON: Yes, a fascinating report, Nick, appreciate you bringing it to us. Nick Paton Walsh for us, thank you so much.

Now at least 41 people are dead in Indonesia after flash flooding ripped through four villages on the island of Flores on Sunday. Floods and mudslides crashed through homes and wiped out bridges and roads on parts of the island. Rescuers can't even reach some of the worst-hit areas because of heavy rains and waves. Indonesia's disaster management agency said at least 27 people are still missing.

Now response teams in Florida, meantime, are trying to prevent what authorities say is a real catastrophic flooding situation. Now the problem is at a decommissioned phosphate plant just south of Tampa. Wastewater is stored at the facility and officials feel the wall holding that water back could collapse. The threat of toxic flooding in the area has forced hundreds of residents from their homes. The governor took an aerial tour of the site on Sunday.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): What we're looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation.

The public health and safety is the top priority. Obviously, we want to protect that in a way that minimizes any of the environmental impacts. But the goal is to ensure the integrity of the stack system as quickly as possible, in order to minimize impacts to local residents, and to prevent an uncontrolled discharge.


NEWTON: Now to update this story, local officials report a controlled release is now working and the level of risk is decreasing, thankfully. Authorities reassure residents, that in their words, the water supply is safe.

Still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM. Jordan says its uncovered a plan to destabilize the kingdom and the government says, a member of the royal family is directly involved. That's coming up.



NEWTON: To the dramatic political events now in Jordan where the government has accused former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein of trying to destabilize the country. The deputy prime minister says security officials have foiled the plan which allegedly involved the prince's associates and in their words, foreign parties.

Ben Wedeman thankfully is here to help us sort this out. He is following developments from Beirut. And Ben, I was also interested that government, in terms of having that press conference on Saturday, also said that they referred some of this information to the state security courts but said the king would bring this up directly with the prince.

And so I ask you, how are we able to decipher what is at stake here in terms of Jordan and the government or if this is an internal family squabble that is now out in the open?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it might take Solomon to decipher this particular puzzle, Paula. Certainly in terms of, you know, King Abdullah having direct contact with Prince Hamzah, that's perfectly plausible. Because it this is the end of the day, this is a family squabble among the offspring of the late King Hussein.

It's important to keep in mind that King Hussein had four wives and 11 children, and it is inevitable in this sort of situation that half- brothers are going to be competitors for power. But this is the sort of problem that normally would be solved with behind closed doors consultations. And I think what is most striking about this current situation is how very much this is in the open. In the open in a way that Jordan has never seen before.

There have, in the past, been tensions between members of the royal family but they've always been sort of papered over. This is being made very public. And Prince Hamzah has really come out with a direct challenge.


Because he's talking about -- he's criticizing the country and indirectly the monarchy of corruption and incompetence and there is dissatisfaction in Jordan at the moment with the economic situation, which is very bad. With the handling of the coronavirus, which, initially, was considered to be one of the better situations as far as the Middle East is concerned with handling the coronavirus. But now things don't seem to be going well and clearly the king -- King Abdullah is not happy with this situation. How he's going to resolve this, however, is anyone's guess -- Paula.

NEWTON: Yes, it's been fascinating to watch, and I know unnerving for many in the region and beyond. Our Ben Wedeman, thanks so much for the update, appreciate it.

Now are you on Facebook? If so, you might be one of a half billion people -- let me say that again, a half billion, whose personal data has been posted on a website for hackers. How did this happen? We'll tell you just ahead.


NEWTON: U.S. President Joe Biden is making infrastructure and jobs his next major legislative push.


Last week he unveiled a massive plan addressing both issues. This week Mr. Biden is focused on whipping up support and countering those critics. Arlette Saenz has more.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: After spending the holiday weekend at Camp David, President Biden will return here to the White House on Monday, where he will get right to work on pitching his American jobs plan, that sweeping $2.25 trillion investment in infrastructure and jobs. The president has indicated he believes there will be changes made to this proposal as he is looking to not only get Republican's to sign on but also to ensure that his Democratic caucus stays together to support this proposal.

Now, the president has said he will invite both Republicans and Democrats into the Oval Office to talk about their ideas for the plan. And he has also dispatched five of his cabinet secretaries, what he is calling a so-called jobs cabinet, to pitch this plan to the American people and to get by in in this whole discussion with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

They are also reaching out to mayors and local governors, trying to build that support out in the country. And the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, talked about the president's desire for this package to both be bipartisan but also ensure that they are quick in their action. Take a listen.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: The president really believes in a bipartisan approach and it's one of the reasons I am constantly having conversations with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle gathering ideas. Bottom line is we've got to deliver for the American people, and we can't let politics slow this down to where it doesn't actually happen.

SAENZ: Now, Republicans have been fierce in their opposition to that $2.25 trillion price tag and the tax hikes for corporations that the president has proposed to pay for this proposal. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he is prepared to fight the president every step of the way.

And it's not just Republicans that the president needs to worry about. He also needs to keep an eye on his Democratic caucus. There are moderates who are calling for specific elements of this proposal to be changed. And progressives are saying that the president could go bolder.

But one thing that you hear over and over from White House officials is that it's not just about getting bipartisan support from lawmakers. It's also building that bipartisan support out in the country, which is what you saw a tactic from them that you saw during the American Rescue Plan as they are trying to get support from Republicans and Democrats, ordinary American voters, as they are trying to pressure these lawmakers to get on board.

Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


NEWTON: Cybersecurity experts say the personal information of about a half billion Facebook users have been posted to a website used by hackers. CNN Donie O'Sullivan explains how the sensitive data was released.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DONIE O'SULLIVAN CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: So hackers in this case apparently back in 2019 were able to exploit a flaw in Facebook's systems where they were able to match phone numbers of apparently hundreds of millions of Facebook users with their Facebook accounts. Now what that has now resulted is someone has posted on a hacking forum the details we are told of 500 million, half a billion Facebook accounts, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, where people lived, people's names.

All of this information really a treasure trove for cyber criminals who might want to engage in identity theft. Breakdown of the numbers by country, we see 32 million accounts in the U.S., 11 million in the U.K., 28 million in Saudi Arabia, and hundreds of millions more around the world. Facebook says it has fixed that flaw, that they said they actually fixed the flaw back in 2019. Obviously, this data is still out there.

We asked the company if they are going to tell users, if they are going to tell people who have been affected by this that their information is out there. They said no comment at the moment. One thing I should also mention as we were speaking to a cybersecurity expert who now has access to this data. And he was able to quickly pull up the details of two of our CNN colleagues. So a lot of people impacted by this


NEWTON: And our thanks for Donie O'Sullivan for that reporting.

Now Japan's famous cherry blossom season has peaked. But earlier than expected. In fact, it is the earliest cherry blossom bloom in 1,200 years. Experts say this fits into a pattern of early flowering in recent decades and is likely the result of climate change. CNN's Selina Wang has more.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cherry blossom season is coming to an end in Japan. For thousands of years, these flowers have been revered, celebrated with Hinami viewing parties. Even during COVID-19, people have gathered from all around to enjoy these stunning sights.

These blossoms, which only last a few days, are a reminder of fleeting beauty, but also of the lasting effects of climate change. Cherry blossoms have bloomed exceptionally early across Japan.


Scientists say it's a sign of global warning. In Kyoto, blossoms peaked on March 26. That is the earliest date in more than 1,200 years of records. Here in Tokyo, flowers reached peak bloom on March 22, the second earliest date on record.

Now, these cherry trees are extremely important for climate change studies, because of how sensitive they are to temperature change and because of just how far back the data goes. WANG (voice-over): Yasuyuki Aono, a researcher at Osaka Prefecture University, tells me he's gathered records from Kyoto back to 812 A.D. from historical documents and diaries.

In the last 200 years, the peak blooming date in Kyoto has been getting earlier and earlier as temperatures rise, he says. Higher temperatures and urbanization contribute to earlier blooming times. This spring has been unusually warm in Japan, he says.

WANG: Traditionally, Sakura season is celebrated with picnics, and parties, and festivities underneath the trees, but they've been restricted this year because of COVID-19, with signs all over like this one, reminding people that parties are not allowed.

Cherry blossoms hold important cultural significance in Japan. They appear throughout Japanese literature and poetry as a symbol of life, death, and rebirth.

WANG (voice-over): Here in Roppongi, the petals have all fallen. The delicate blossoms replaced with green leaves, reflecting the fragility of nature and of our planet.

Selina Wang, CNN, Tokyo.


NEWTON: And that's going to do it for us this hour. I'm Paula Newton. "EARLY START" is up next. You are watching CNN.