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Ban on Women Serving in Combat Lifted; Interview With Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; How Dangerous Are North Korea's Threats?

Aired January 24, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the Pentagon clears the way for women to serve in combat. Critics question whether they can handle all the physically demanding jobs on the front lines.

Vowing to carry out a nuclear task and more rocket launches, North Korea talks about settling accounts with the United States by force. So, how dangerous are its threats?

And why is the country's largest civil rights organization fighting new efforts -- New York's efforts to crack down on supersized soft drinks?

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



BLITZER: American men and women already are fighting and dying together overseas. The defense secretary, Leon Panetta, said today that the time has come for the military to recognize that reality. And so, the pentagon has ended its long-time policy of barring women from combat and will gradually open frontline units to females. Critics question whether women can handle all the physically grueling tasks that come with the combat those roles.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has been looking into all of this for us. What's the latest, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. When it comes to integrating women, forget about privacy concerns, sleeping in close quarters or going to the bathrooms. Sources that I spoke with say the number one obstacle to integrating women into the ground unit infantry, artillery, things like that is strength and stamina.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): With a stroke of his pen, defense secretary, Leon Panetta, altered the look of the American sword.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier, but everyone is entitled to a chance. LAWRENCE: Panetta officially opened well over 200,000 combat jobs to women. Now, the question is, can they physically qualify?

SGT. JENNIFER HUNT, U.S. ARMY RESERVE: I think that's already been proven.

LAWRENCE: Sgt. Jennifer Hunt was attached to an infantry battalion in Afghanistan. She still remembers the six-mile runs in full gear.

HUNT: I just found that physically taxing to, you know, have that pack on my back, but I still was able to, you know, make the requirement of, you know, of going that six miles.

LAWRENCE: A number of NATO countries permit women in combat like Canada, France, Germany, and Australia. The British do not. The secretary's action technically opens all jobs, but the services can still apply for specific exemptions if women are not able to meet certain physical standards.

GEN. ROBERT CONE, U.S. ARMY TRAINING & DOCTRINE COMMAND: The concern I get when I talked to soldiers is really about lowering standards, saying that we have people on our team that can't carry their share the weight.

LAWRENCE: In a military, they mean that literally. Some soldiers are loaded down with armored plates, packs, boots, and equipment, and they're hauling around more than 100 pounds. Tank loaders have to lift a 40 to 50-pound shell out of a confined space, spin it around, and push it into the breach.

A senior defense official says that standard cannot be lowered. Officials have identified specific physical requirements for each combat job. Next they'll turn that information over to scientists who can build physical tests to measure if a man or woman is fit for the front lines.

CONE: At recruiting stations, you can't say you're lift a 54- pound ammo shell and put it in the tank.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): Yes, no doubt. And that's why this summer, the marines are going to take about 400 male marines, 400 female marines, take them out, and have them perform some of these specific physicals tasks for these jobs, then they're going to take that information and come up with some sort of standard physical test that they can use to figure out who may be qualified for them.

It still remains to be seen how many women will really be interested in these very demanding and dangerous jobs and, of course, by the time some of these units are qualified, if they are, the U.S. will be winding down very quickly in Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope that's true. Let's hope that winding down does happen very quickly. Chris, thanks very much. Ryan Smith served as a U.S. marine infantry man in Iraq. He wrote a tough piece in "the Wall Street Journal" this week, raising questions about women on the frontlines. He's joining us now along with first-term congresswoman, Tulsi Gabbard. She's a captain in the Hawaii National Guard. She served in combat in Iraq as well.

Thanks to both of you for joining us and thanks to both of you for your service to the United States.

I'm going to read a line, Ryan, from what you wrote in "the wall street journal," "Yes, a woman is as capable as a man as pulling a trigger, but the goal of our nation's military is to fight and win wars. Before taking the drastic step of allowing women to serve in combat units, has the government considered whether introducing women into the above-described situation would have made my unit more or less combat effective?"

Congresswoman, you served in Iraq. Respond to what Ryan just wrote.

REP. TULSI GABBARD, (D) HAWAII: Well, I think this is really what's going to be the biggest challenge now that this policy change has been announced by the DOD is getting folks to understand in reality what has already been happening. The contributions that women in uniform have been making in these combat settings, the hardships and the austere (ph) conditions they've been living and operating and exceeding the standards on already.

Now, this is really just an official recognition of what these women have been doing in combat for quite some time.

BLITZER: Ryan, why do you have such strong feelings that women can't be -- aren't' capable of participating in these combat units?

RYAN SMITH, FORMER U.S. MARINE: Well, Wolf, you know, I think people have a mistaken view of what's really happening. People are assuming that all future wars are going to resemble the wars, the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. But my word (ph), the invasion by Iraq in 2003 it was mechanized push, a conventional war.

We had marines trapped in amphibious assault vehicles for 48 hours. The column wasn't going to stop for anyone. So, if you had to go to the restroom, you had to pea in a bottle inches from the comrade next to you. If you had to go -- if you developed dysentery, you had to pooh in a bag, in an MRE bag, inches from your comrade's face.

Now, introducing women into that environment can be really traumatic and humiliating. And combats already difficult enough. You don't need to add this other layer.

BLITZER: Go ahead, congresswoman.

GABBARD: Well, Ryan, you know, I respect you and thank you for your service. I've been honored to serve with many women who've already operated under these circumstances. This is not something new. Women have been operating shoulder to shoulder with men in these types of settings within Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the things that you've described are things that I and friends of mine and people that I've served with have already experienced.

And I think that's the strength of our military. The strength of our military is because men and women adapt and overcome because we're there to conduct a mission to serve our country. So, all of these other things that are societal norms back home, it doesn't count. You're in combat. All of that stuff goes out the window.

BLITZER: You know, Ryan, we used to hear similar arguments before they allowed African-Americans to serve equally with Caucasians in the United States military before they allowed gay military personnel to serve openly, unit cohesion, things like that. Are you concerned that the arguments you're making now have that historical residence?

SMITH: No. I think that's apples and oranges, Wolf. You know, there's a reason in the U.S. that we have separate restrooms. We have separate shower facilities, separate locker rooms. You know, we even have separate sports teams. It's because it can be traumatizing to be forced to do things that you're uncomfortable with in front of members of the opposite sex.

And, you know, combat is a very hard game and I think people are being (ph) cavalier about this restriction being lifted. You know, combat is a life or death game and if we get this wrong, the loser dies. And, you know, I'm just giving this perspective as -- from a grunt's point of view, a guy that was a sergeant on the ground living in these condition.

And you know, I talked to my comrades and they all feel the same way, that we couldn't imagine having a woman in our midst when we were going through some of these traumatic situations.

BLITZER: Congresswoman.

GABBARD: Well, you know, I can understand where you're coming from Ryan, and I think you'll find the opposite is also true, that when you talk to folks who have already operated under these austere (ph) circumstances in combat, shoulder to shoulder with women, they've recognized the great contributions and unique contributions that having unique skill set at your disposal to conduct the mission.

Again, I really believe that these things fall to the wayside, as you respect your comrades, regardless of what the differences maybe, whether it'd be gender, or race, or religion. Again, it's the strength of our country that allows us all to set that aside and put the mission first.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but Ryan, quickly, do you have a problem with gays serving openly in the U.S. military, in combat roles, the kind of combat roles you're describing?

SMITH: No, Wolf, I don't. You know, everyone keeps their -- on the battlefield, their sexuality to themselves. So, I do not have a problem with gays, you know, serving in the military. Everyone is there to get the mission accomplished.

BLITZER: Ryan Smith, the provocative article in the "Wall Street Journal," thanks very much for coming in. And Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, thanks to you for coming in as well, Iraq war veteran, Iraq war veterans.

Six weeks after the massacre at a Connecticut school, a new move to ban certain assault-type weapons, but even its sponsor admits it will be an uphill fight.

And Notre Dame football star, Manti Te'o speaking out about the hoax involving a dead girlfriend who never existed.


BLITZER: Six weeks after the shooting rampage which took the lives of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school, there's a new move to outlaw military-style weapons. With an arsenal of guns on display and police officers backing her up, Senator Dianne Feinstein today proposed a new federal ban on some types of assault-type rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

The measure replacing a ban that expired in 2004 would prohibit the sale, manufacture, transfer, and importation of more than 150 assault-style weapons, ban large capacity magazines with more than ten rounds of ammunition but to appeal to gun owners and excludes or keeps legal most handguns along with 2,200 hunting and sporting rifles.

Also with Sen. Dianne Feinstein today, victims of gun violence, one after another, they told their stories. Lilly Habtu was shot while in class at Virginia Tech University.


LILLY HABTU, VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I have a bullet still in my head. I was shot in the jaw. It's one inch -- it's one millimeter away from my brain stem.


BLITZER: The political battle lines are already drawn on the gun control issue, and Senator Feinstein, herself, concedes her proposed ban will be tough to achieve, but the California Democrat says the time has come.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: Since the last assault weapons ban expired in 2004 and, incidentally, in the ten years it was in place, no one took it to court. More than 350 people have been killed with assault weapons. More than 450 have been injured. We should be outraged by how easy it is for perpetrators of these horrific crimes to obtain powerful military-style weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Feinstein's announcement of her new legislation comes three days after the president and his inaugural address promised to make gun control a second-term priority.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes town of Newtown know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.


BLITZER: But can the president deliver? How will the politics of guns impact the second-term agenda? Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us. Tough questions. can the president, can Senator Feinstein really deliver on these promises?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the moment, the answer is no. She conceded that point. She's appealing for help not only inside Washington but around the country. She says call your congressman, call your senator. They're trying to gin up public support, and we'll see if they can succeed, Wolf.

But as Bill Clinton said at the Democratic convention on a different subject, this is about arithmetic. The president didn't touch this in the first term. So, he's new to this, if you will, and he's pretty powerful. He's got the bully pulpit. However, where you have to pass the legislation in Congress, just watch that even today, powerful testimony from victims of gun violence. No doubt about that. They are critical to selling this.

But Dianne Feinstein has been for these bills for a long time. Senator Chuck Schumer for this issue for very long time. Congresswoman Carol McCarthy of New York from the House side of Democrat for gun control for a long time. Where are the new faces? There are no new faces converts (ph) stepping forward and say yes.

People like Joe Manchin, the new senator from West Virginia, a democrat, saying I'll look at these things. None are saying, let's pass all these things the president wants. And let's just look at a map of the Democrats right now. There are at least -- we can show you at least 11 vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents.

You see the states, they live in right there. Not all the incumbents are running, but those are at least 11 Democratic seats up in 2014. This Democratic senator from Alaska has already said no thank you. The Democratic senator from Montana, Max Baucus has said, I'm not so sure we want to do gun control.

Look at Louisiana there. Look at some of these other states. So, the president's first problem is Democrats. And what they're saying now, Republicans are saying, we don't have to worry about this issue right now. We're going to see what Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate does. And the expectation right now is, at best, he could get a very watered down version. No assault weapons ban, maybe some progress on background checks, but not the universal background checks the president wants.

And the Republicans around the House, Wolf, from what they're saying is, we'll have our committees look at these issues, but we're not going to think about voting on a bill until the Senate proves it can pass something. So, the battle is now on the Senate. The president's problem is Democrats. And on this day, we'll see if he can rally public support and change a lot of minds, but on this day, he doesn't have the vote.

BLITZER: So, how active, how visible will the president be and the vice president as well?

KING: But that is a great question and a big test of this president's commitment to this issue in his second term. Will he travel the country? Will he try to rally public support? We know tomorrow the vice president will be in a gun state, Richmond, Virginia, and the vice president wants to run for president in 2016.

So, this is some political courage on his part. He also did the Google program today, Google hangout, they call it. They took a question on gun control. Listen here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In California, everyone talks about the big earthquake or some terrible natural disaster as the last line of defense. What would you say to those people --

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I would say there's -- guess what, a shotgun will keep you a lot safer, a double barrel shotgun and the assault weapon in somebody's hands who doesn't know how to use, even one who does know how to use it. You know it's harder to use an assault weapon than it is a shotgun. OK? If you want to keep people away in an earthquake, buy some shotgun shells.


KING: Colorful from the vice president there and he often is colorful. You want to keep some away (ph) in earthquake, buy a shotgun or shotgun sells, not an assault weapons, but that is part of the challenge, trying to convince enough people that these assault weapons have no use, have no use except for military use and to try to get them to call and pressure their congressman and their senators to change mind.

But Wolf, you know how this works. An issue comes front and center in Washington. It tends to fade. Let's pray there are no more tragedies like Newtown. And if there are no more tragedies, can the president keep the political attention on this? He would have to do that himself using the bully pulpit, traveling the country. As you know, a long list of second term priority. So, at the moment, people think he's not going to get anything near his wish list, maybe some waterdown version.

BLITZER: Maybe a little background checks, maybe something an ammunition clips, probably not assault weapons.

KING: Probably not assault weapons and the ammunitions clips a huge question mark right now. He and the vice president with the help of the American people if they can rally public support will have to push really hard. Simply, on this day, the math is not there.

BLITZER: John, thanks very much.

The hoax that snared (ph) the Manti Te'o case stunning Notre Dame University but another story could shed light on how the university's devotion to football could blind it in more ways than one.


BLITZER: Notre dame football star, Manti Te'o, is speaking out about that now infamous hoax, telling ABC's Katie Couric the pain he felt in the week of his girlfriend's death was real despite the fact that she never existed. Couric also asked him about the phone conversation he had with the alleged perpetrator of the hoax after it had all been revealed. Watch this.


KATIE COURIC, ABC: You say he later called you. What did he say to you on the phone?

MANTI TE'O, NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL PLAYER: He just basically expressed, you know, and just explained what he did and why he did it and --

COURIC: Did he say why he did it?

TE'O: He didn't say why. He just explained that he just wanted to help people and that was his way of helping people, of being someone that he wasn't and trying to connect with somebody on a different level, too, and help him out.

COURIC: And what did you say to him?

TE'O: Obviously, it didn't really help me out.


BLITZER: The bizarre hoax isn't just about Manti Te'o. It's also raising some questions about Notre Dame University and a football program that has seen controversy before. Let's bring in CNN Sara Ganim. She's got details -- Sarah.

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Lizzy Seeberg (ph) died more than two years ago, but her story is still important today because of the way her parents say they were treated by Notre Dame, going to great lengths to protect their own.


GANIM (voice-over): The story dominated coverage of the BCS championship game, how Manti Te'o's grandmother and girlfriend both died the same day. It turns out that girlfriend was a hoax and Notre Dame now admits they knew that for nearly two weeks before the game, saying nothing as media ran sympathetic stories.

TE'O: The most beautiful girl I've ever met.

GANIM: Notre Dame's mission statement includes inspiring language about the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake, but it's not the first time the university has been accused of making the actual mission more about football.

TOM SEEBERG, LIZZY SEEBERG FATHER: Our experience has been very, very eye-opening, and I think corrupting impact of big time college athletics.

GANIM: Tom Seeberg's family is filled with Notre Dame alumni.

TOM SEEBERG: It felt like betrayal.

GANIM: In 2010, his daughter Lizzy, who attended neighboring St. Mary's College, committed suicide ten days after reporting to police she was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player.

MARY SEEBERG, LIZZY SEEBERG MOTHER: She really brought joy to us every day.

GANIM: Seeberg's story is complicated. She battled anxiety, but her parents say it's no longer about what happened in that dorm room in 2010. It's how the university handled it.

TOM SEEBERG: It all became clear then that we had been basically jerked around for a couple of months. That we were being played.

GANIM: They found out the player was only interviewed by campus police after their daughter's death. And despite a threatening text message, police waited almost a month to get phone records. The Seebergs now believe Notre Dame never intended to investigate. Notre Dame declined an interview, but in an e-mail said the Seeberg story has been, quote, "twisted falsely."

The university said the detective's interview with the suspect was delayed while he waited four days from a Seeberg to prepare a second statement, and then, later, by her taking her own life. Then, in that same season, another tragedy. A student taping a football practice died when the lift he was using fell on a windy day.

Notre Dame's own investigation made recommendations on new procedures but found no one was to blame. Two months later, Indiana slapped the university with six safety violations and said that staff knew about the high winds. The university was hit with a $77,000 fine. And now, Manti Te'o, Notre Dame says it was Te'o's decision about when to reveal a personal matter.

(on-camera) These events have one thing in common, the way Notre Notre dame responded was protective of its football program. Three stories in two and a half years.

KATHERINE REDMOND, COALITION AGAINST VIOLENT ATHLETES: It's a common theme in all of that was Notre Dame first. It was image first. It was about, you know, making sure that Notre Dame's story program was defended.

GANIM (voice-over): Kathy Redmond runs the Coalition Against Violent Athletes, a group she started after she was raped at the University of Nebraska in 1991.

REDMOND: Notre Dame has this intimidation factor based on their lack of response and all these other cases.

GANIM: After Lizzy Seeberg died, the U.S. Department of Education investigated. Notre Dame agreed to change its response to sex assaults and is still required to file updates with the government.

TOM SEEBERG: Certainly, there could be no criminal proceeding after Lizzy's death, but, there could be hope in a place that has a disciplinary process whose mission is to seek truth.

GANIM: As the Notre Dame mission statement says, truth for its own sake.


GANIM (on-camera): It's important to say that no one has or ever will be criminally charged in any of these cases. To critics and to the Seebergs, this is more about accountability -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara, thanks so much for that report. Good information for all of our viewers to digest.

Chilling new threats aimed at United States from North Korea. So, will the North try to carry them out? Stand by.


BLITZER: Bold new threats from North Korea aimed directly at the United States which have calls the sworn enemy of the Korean people. The communist nation says it plans to carry out a nuclear test and more long-range rocket launches as part of an all-out confrontation with the United States. Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, says it's hard to know just what North Korea is up to.


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are very concerned with North Korea's continuing provocative behavior. We are fully prepared. We remain prepared to deal with any kind of provocation from the North Koreans but I hope in the end that they determine that it is better to make a choice to become part of the international family.


BLITZER: CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us now with a closer look at North Korea's threats and its capabilities.

What are you seeing, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. North Korea is basically saying they have a right to nuclear program, they have a right to a space program, and they are painting the United States as the aggressor here in trying to thwart those programs but it's the last sentence in this statement from North Korea that has attracted so much attention.

Look at it here. Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, North Korea says, not with words, as it, the United States, regards jungle law as the rule of its survival.

So does this mean that North Korea is going to start lobbing nuclear tipped missiles at the United States and, more importantly, are they even capable of doing such a thing?

Let's review the information as we know it right now. The truth is, last December, North Korea had its most successful launch to date. It put a three-stage rocket into space. It managed to carry a payload of about 1300 pounds and travel about 6,000 miles or is capable of that which would bring it to the coast of California. Now the North Koreans say it's all about the payload up there. They say all they were trying to do was get a satellite into space. That's all this program was about.

But intelligence analysts say they don't believe it. They think the problem is, given time, North Koreans could test enough and one day they'll just swap this satellite out for a nuclear warhead and voila, Wolf, they'll have an ICBM.

BLITZER: So if you combine, Tom, that test with this latest message, does that -- that indicated the North Koreans are on the verge of being able to strike the U.S. mainland with a nuclear weapon?

FOREMAN: In a word, Wolf, no, it does not. Let me bring up the main technical concerns that they have here because they really are profound. First of all, they have to look at the issue of re-entry. The simple fact that you can get a rocket like this up into space, that does not mean you can bring it back into the atmosphere at 17,000 miles an hour without it bursting into flames or tearing it apart. That is difficult.

Secondly, they have to look at targeting. Nuclear weapons don't have to be that accurate but you do have to have some means of controlling it from the other side of the world and it would be very easy with a bad guidance system for it to simply splash into the ocean. Then the North Koreans would get none of the goals they were after, yet they would suffer all of the repercussions from agitating the U.S. and its allies into conflict.

And lastly, there is the issue of the size of their nukes. There is just no indication that the North Koreans have created a nuclear weapon small enough to ride on top of these rockets. That is a huge challenge that takes a lot of work. They're not there yet. That's one of the reasons many intelligence analysts are looking at these very sharp words, Wolf, and saying, as Secretary Panetta suggested, you have to be serious about it but it's probably just an empty threat at this point.

BLITZER: Good explanation, Tom. Thank you.

And joining us now, CNN's chief international correspondent, the ABC News Global Affairs anchor, Christiane Amanpour, who's joining us from New York.

Christiane, I know you've been to North Korea. I've been to North Korea. How credible are these latest threats coming out of North Korea?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, they're credible as threats and they hope to make these threats a deterrent but when it comes to, could they actually and do they intend to launch anything against the United States, the consensus is no. The experts say no, not only do they not have the ability to invade, or do anything like that, but they don't yet have the ability or the range on long-range missiles and they are not considered to have the ability to put a nuclear warhead on a missile.

But the problem, of course, is the U.S. does not want to see any more of these nuclear tests. It would be the third in the last seven years, and despite sanctions, which have been ratcheting up over the last several years, the fact that they can actually launch rockets as they did last month shows that the sanctions are not fully working. So it really is a bit of a worry, of course.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican from Florida, may be a presidential candidate in four years, what he said today at the hearing with John Kerry.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: North Korea today announced that they're developing a weapon that can reach the United States of America, and unless anybody accuse me of being overly partisan here, I think the Bush administration was wrong to remove North Korea from the list of states sponsors terrorism and I hope we'll reverse that.


BLITZER: You were there at, what, about five years ago when the relationship, at least a little bit, seemed to be improving. When I was there two years ago it was pretty tense. So where do you see this relationship going right now under new leader, the young Kim Jong-Un? AMANPOUR: Well, it doesn't look like it's going anywhere good. At least not for now. He has come into office, he's been there for nearly a year now and he has followed his father's very hard line and very military first policy, pouring the scant resources of that country into their rocket, missile, satellite, nuclear program, whatever they want to call it, into their military program.

And that is a bit of a worry. Also what to worry to observers and people who are trying to figure out which way to go forward is it looks like he's trying to prove himself as a young leader and he is young, and he's got all these old military cadres around him and he, as I say, is trying to project himself on the world stage.

So I think the interesting thing will be, is there any hope of a resumption of the U.S., China, Japan, and, you know, their allied, those talks with North Korea, and what will be the effect of the new South Korean president. She has said that she's interested in, again, trying to have a better relationship with the North. It was a relationship that was completely broken off under her predecessor who took a much more hard line with North Korea.

BLITZER: A lot of people think that Kim Jong-Un is, what, barely 30 years old, he's just doing all of these provocative things to establish his credibility with the military back in North Korea. Do you buy that?

AMANPOUR: Well, probably. I mean, I think that, you know, people are seeing that he's been there for about a year now and that he does need to sort of stand tall on the stage. But also he's actively pursing his father's policy.

I must say, having been there five years ago now, it is a dramatic change because then there was a thaw for about a year. North Korea moth balled its nuclear program. We were at the Yongbyon nuclear plant outside Pyongyang, we saw that an agreement between the United States and North Korea that they were literally dismantling it. The plutonium extraction plant that created this fissile material.

They were wrapping it up, they were moving their things into storage, a few months later we were invited back to watch them blow up, I mean, blow up, their signature cooling tower from that very nuclear plant and then it all came to a screeching halt when Kim Jong- Il grew ill and the whole power struggle started again and it hasn't regained that footing at all. But that's clearly where the U.S. wants to and needs to get back to.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, as usual, thanks very much.

AMANPOUR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A tough former prosecutor is named the new federal watchdog to keep an eye on Wall Street.

And days after his doping confession, Lance Armstrong faces a new lawsuit.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


ALBERT "SKIP" RIZZO, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE FOR CREATIVE TECHNOLOGIES: When you hear some of the stories that people tell about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the variety of things that affect people are unimaginable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I was having a hard time sleeping, I was having a lot of nightmares and just memories and flashes so they diagnosed me with posttraumatic stress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So what we do is we have the person go over their memory as if it were happening again but they're in a safe environment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And tell you (INAUDIBLE), you're going to say, it just looks like a video game but when you put the goggles on, it really brings you back into the same scenario that you're working through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can put on ambient city sounds, the sound of wind. And of course we can blow stuff up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Therapy has been effective. I was never a fan of prolonged exposure and anything of that nature because it is an uncomfortable feeling.

RIZZO: At its core, exposure therapy has to induce some level of anxiety so that you're processing hard memories.

Hi. I'm Skip Rizzo, clinical psychologist at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies.



BLITZER: President Obama has named a tough former federal prosecutor to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, the watchdog agency that monitors Wall Street. That was part of Mary Jo White's turf as a United States attorney as well.

Our crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns has a closer look at this pretty impressive woman.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's for sure, Wolf. The president has been criticized for not going after Wall Street and today he answered his critics by naming one of the toughest legal bulldogs anywhere to take care of the financial business.


JOHNS (voice-over): She's small in stature but larger than life in the legal world. And now President Obama wants Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You don't want to mess with Mary Jo. As one former SEC chairman said, Mary Jo does not intimidate easily.

JOHNS: Her early claim to fame was the successful prosecution of John Gotti, the reputed mafia godfather of the powerful Gambino crime family. That's where CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, a former prosecutor himself, worked alongside of White in New York's eastern district.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Mary Jo combines really impressive intellectual distinction with street smarts. She knows which juries will like, she knows which investigations are important at a given time. So she knows how to allocate the resources to the most important cases.

JOHNS: Today she's best known for her dogged pursuit of terrorists as the first woman U.S. attorney to head New York's southern district.

MARY JO WHITE, U.S. ATTORNEY, NEW YORK SOUTHERN DISTRICT: The message that it sends that I hope it's firm and unmistakable is that we will not tolerate terrorism in this country.

JOHNS: White got convictions on several high-profile terrorists including blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and Ramzi Yousef in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, even indicting Osama bin Laden for attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa half a decade before 9/11. And her office created the first unit designed to prosecute terrorists back in the mid-1990s.

WHITE: We did that because we perceive this to be a long-term danger.

JOHNS: Now the president has asked her to be the sheriff of Wall Street.

WHITE: The SEC, a long and vital and positive force for the markets, has a lot of hard and important work ahead of it.

JOHNS: That hard work may also include having the last word on the excesses of Wall Street and the financial turmoil of the past five years.

TOOBIN: One of the great unanswered questions of this era in law enforcement is why weren't any of the people responsible for the tremendous financial collapse of this country ever prosecuted? I think we will now know that if she doesn't do it, no one could have.

JOHNS: That's a big change from what White has been doing in private practice, defending high-profile Wall Street clients in trouble with the law like former Goldman Sachs board member Rajat Gupta and Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: Mary Jo White has been in private practice for about a decade defending some high-profile clients there on Wall Street, some critics suggesting it could create conflicts of interest at the SEC, but typically the way those problems get handled is by recusal, letting someone else handle the cases that involve her former clients.

BLITZER: I think she also worked -- she represented our parent company Time Warner as well.

JOHNS: That's absolutely correct.

BLITZER: I just want to make that clear as well.

JOHNS: That's for sure.

BLITZER: She's going to be tough at the SEC.

JOHNS: Yes. Yes. She's had a lot big clients.

BLITZER: Thank you very much for that, Joe Johns.

Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is now one step closer to being confirmed as the next secretary of state.

Kate Bolduan is here, she's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What's the latest?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was a big story today, Wolf, that's for sure.

The long-time senator testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the panel he chaired for four years. Kerry was praised by outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Republican Senator John McCain, and the junior senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren.

Also, Sunday it will cost you another penny to put a letter in the mail. A regular stamp will cost 46 cents. The hike comes amid financial troubles for the postal service which is cutting hours and borrowing billions of dollars from taxpayers to stay afloat.

And it could be at least June before authorities investigating the Newtown school massacre determine whether criminal charges will be pursued. During the first meeting of the Connecticut Governor's Special Advisory panel, the lead investigator reported that prosecution isn't on the horizon right now but all evidence is being examined, and it is unclear still who would potentially be charged. The panel's initial report on the shooting is due in March.

And days after Lance Armstrong's chilling doping confession, the latest in what could be scores of lawsuits has been filed. The California class-action suit has been brought by readers of Armstrong's books accusing the disgraced cyclists and his publishers of peddling fiction as fact and they are demanding a refund. I guess you could say, this is likely the tip of the iceberg for him in terms of legal action.

BLITZER: The lawsuit are just, just beginning.

BOLDUAN: Oh, yes. Yes.

BLITZER: He's got a lot of money. We'll see how much he winds up with.


BOLDUAN: How much he has at the end of it, is the question.

BLITZER: Yes. Thank you.

New York's ban on soda has drawn its fair share of critics but the soda industry has found a surprising new ally in its battle to overturn the ban. One that knows how to fight for its rights.


BLITZER: More bad news on Wall Street for Apple, whose shares plunged more than 12 percent, amid forecasts showing signs of slowing demand for popular products like the iPhone. The company's stock has dropped in value by more than $200 billion over the last four months.

Netflix, on the other hand, was the star performer on the S&P 500 today. Shares in the online video rental giant jumped more than 42 percent on the heels of yesterday's shocking profit.

The world of home entertainment is changing so fast, it's almost impossible to keep up. It wasn't that long ago that most of us watched movies on VHS tapes from the local video store, or listened to music on records and cassettes and CDs. Now it seems, even the DVD, yes, even the DVD could soon be a thing of the past.

Here's CNN's Dan Simon.

DAN SIMON, CNN SILICON VALLEY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at one time, it seemed like there was a Blockbuster Video on every corner. Now they're getting tough to find. The company announced that it's shutting down 300 stores. That's on top of the 500 stores it shut down last year. But there may be a larger story here. Physical media. It seems to be on its last legs.


SIMON (voice-over): From VHS tapes to DVDs, Blockbuster defined a generation of technology and home entertainment. Drop by one of its remaining stores, and you can still find some loyalists, like Lester Yee.

LESTER YEE, BLOCKBUSTER CUSTOMER: Sometimes I'll keep it for a few days and watch it again, bring it to my friend's house and watch it. SIMON: But the last several years have not been pretty for anything that represents physical media. From CDs to DVDs to games to books, digital distribution has steadily eroded physical sales, causing some traditional brick and mortar chains to go under. Borders Books, gone, Tower Records, gone, Blockbuster Video, a shadow of what it used to be.

DAN CRYAN, DIGITAL MEDIA RESEARCH DIRECTOR, IHS: In terms of pure consumption in volumes, we've already hit the stage that consumers are watching more movies digitally than they are physically. That actually happened in 2012.

SIMON: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Hulu, YouTube, and on-demand video have redefined our viewing experiences. Plus computers from Apple and others are ditching the DVD drive altogether.

So are we witnessing the last breath of physical media? Maybe, but analysts like Dan Cryan say it could take years to actually happen, noting that film studios still earn more revenue from hard copies.

CRYAN: The overall trend, if you will, is that the money is following consumption relatively slowly. Because there is a higher cost, higher value per transaction when you go out and rent a disc than when you watch something on Netflix.

SIMON: And Redbox, the kiosk DVD business, is continuing to have success. But this statistic should give them pause. In 2012, digital streaming was expected to go up 135 percent and keep climbing.

Today's youth may not immediately recognize this, the cassette, and those born today probably won't know what a DVD is. But for some, there will always be something of a nostalgia factor. Whether it's a preference for old-fashioned vinyl records or actual books as opposed to e-readers.

But this local bookstore chain in San Francisco is bucking the trend. The CEO says they're thriving.

MICHAEL TUCKER, OWNER, BOOKS INC.: Everybody can get the books, but the staffs that we have, really, and the readers that we have that are working with the public, that's the difference. That's a different factor we have.

SIMON: Nonetheless, it's been two years since Amazon announced that Kindle books began outselling physical copies.


SIMON: But Blockbuster has gotten into the streaming business, but what are the lessons of its struggling retail operation? Well, it means that nothing lasts forever. Just ask Kodak and Polaroid, iconic brands of yesteryear, surpassed by better technologies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan, thanks very much.

Surprising new allies in the battle against New York City's proposed ban on supersized drinks. That's next.


BLITZER: The soda industry has some powerful new allies in its battle to keep New York City from banning those supersized drinks.

Let's bring in Mary Snow. She's in New York with details -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're groups known for fighting discrimination, not whether sugary drinks over 16 ounces should be served in New York City. But as New York gets closer to imposing a ban in March, they decided to speak up.


SNOW (voice-over): The fight to ban large soda and sugary drinks in New York City is getting some high-profile but unlikely support. One of the nation's oldest civil rights group is taking a stand in support of beverage companies. The New York chapter of the NAACP is backing a lawsuit filed to try and stop the city.

Hazel Dukes is the New York chapter president.


SNOW (on camera): It's about?

DUKES: Economic disparity.

SNOW: And how --

DUKES: And how the small business is being punished while we allow the big corporate people, again, to have their own way.

SNOW (voice-over): Convenience stores like 7-Eleven are exempt. The NAACP, along with the Hispanic Federation, argue that small and minority-owned businesses will feel a disproportionate impact.

Then there's the obesity epidemic. Non-Hispanic blacks, according to the CDC, have the highest rate of obesity at 44 percent followed by Mexican-Americans at 39 percent. The NAACP filed a legal brief in support of beverage companies saying to tackle the public health crisis of obesity, it's developed a holistic, educational program called Project Health. The funding for that project, according to the NAACP's Web site, is the Coca-Cola Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the company.

Dukes says the New York chapter received $75,000 in the past two years.

(On camera): There's a conflict?

DUKES: Absolutely not.

SNOW: You don't see a conflict?

DUKES: Absolutely not. If this was the first time that Coca- Cola had given us money, sure, it would raise questions, but it's not the first time. Coca-Cola has been supporting NAACP nationally and locally, three years, not only here in New York state, but all over the country.

SNOW (voice-over): The Hispanic Federation also says it received $75,000 from Coke for this year. The organization's president also left last year to work for Coca-Cola. A spokesman for HF says those factors had no impact on its decision to file the legal brief.

As for the city, when asked to comment on the beverage industry's latest allies, it said in a statement, "The obesity crisis impacting the nation and disproportionately affecting minorities calls for bold action, and we are confident support will grow as more people learn about the unique impact sugary drinks have on this epidemic."


SNOW: And we reached out to Coca-Cola for comment. They referred us directly to the American Beverage Association, which says, it's not surprised to be gaining more support. It believes the city's Board of Health overstepped its authority, which is why the lawsuit was filed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you.

Happening now, a senator who experienced a horror of bullets and blood launches a new fight to ban military-style weapons.