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Dennis Rodman Back in North Korea; New Book Documents Navy SEALs; Film Backlash Hits SeaWorld.

Aired December 19, 2013 - 11:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: From one crazy talking guy to another, Dennis Rodman. He's back in North Korea. He says he is visiting his good friend the dictator. Is his mission really about basketball or is it about something else? Or does this guy just absolutely have no clue what he is doing?


BANFIELD: Dennis Rodman, the controversial former NBA star, arrived back in North Korea this morning. In keeping with his reputation his third trip there this year is yet again wrapped in controversy. He says he plans to train North Korean basketball players, a deal he says he worked out with the man he calls a very good friend, North Korea's ruthless dictator, Kim Jong-Un. How ruthless you ask? Pretty ruthless. Like if offing a family member counts. Just last week Kim's uncle was executed on what some analysts say were trumped up charges of treason.

CNN's Anna Coren has more on this one.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): North Korea going through the most serious political upheaval in decades, former NBA star Dennis Rodman has arrived in Pyongyang where he was met by an official delegation at the airport. This is his third trip to the kingdom where he'll be training the national basketball team that's preparing for an exhibition match to celebrate the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un next month. Now, last week, Kim had his uncle executed after he was convicted of treason but Rodman says he has no concerns for his personal safety and that he is merely there to play basketball and have some fun. While he made no comment upon his arrival he did speak to reporters before leaving Beijing where he said he won't be raising the issue of human rights or the imprisonment of American missionary, Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for allegedly overthrowing the regime.

DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA BASKETBALL PLAYER: If he wants to talk about it, great. If it doesn't happen I just can't bring it up because I don't want him to think that I'm over here trying to be an ambassador and trying to use him as a friend and all after sudden I'm talking about politics. That's not going to be that way.

COREN: Dennis Rodman is the most high-profile American to have met Kim Jong-Un since he became leader of the country after his father's death two years ago. Rodman will be in Pyongyang for four days training the team. He'll then be returning in two weeks with 12 American basketball players for the exhibition game.

Anna Coren, CNN, Seoul.


BANFIELD: On Tuesday, the state of Oklahoma executed the 39th and final death row inmate of 2013. I know that number is big, 39, but actually it's the lowest number in five years. Across the country 80 people were sentenced to death this year and that's the lowest since capital punishment was ruled constitutional once again back in 1976. Again, across the country, only 32 states and the federal government still actually sentenced anyone to death. Maryland being the latest to stop that practice. And the trend away from death row and using the death penalty at all is being driven by a couple things. Just how costly it is to run through all those appeals for decades, the very real danger of making a mistake and wrongfully convicting someone and ultimately wrongfully killing someone, and then lately, a strange phenomenon, a shortage of the lethal anesthetic.

Got an update on a story we told you a couple weeks ago. A Utah couple is suing online retailer, They claim they were fined $3500 just because they posted a negative review of their experience with the retailer online. And their credit score was dinged when they didn't pay that fee. Now they're asking the court to declare they never owed the money, that that fee wasn't something that was realistic and they're seeking compensation to be determined by a jury.

A renowned photographer with incredible access to world leaders gets some unprecedented cooperation with a very secretive group, these guys, Navy SEALs. Your chance to see some extraordinary, exclusive pictures that you have likely never seen before and may never see again. He's going to join me with the story behind these stories next.




UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Mr. Patton please.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Been around the world twice. Talked to everyone once. There ain't nothing I can't do. No sky is too high, no sea too rough. A lot of lessons in my life. Never shoot a large caliber man with a small caliber bullet. Anything we're doing is worth over doing. Moderation is for cowards. I'm a lover. I'm a fighter. I'm a Navy SEAL diver.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BANFIELD: That is a clip from a new movie "Lone Survivor," which is due out Christmas day. It is based on the true story of how only one of four Navy SEALs survived a mission in Afghanistan. It is the Hollywood version of the Navy SEALs.

Former Army combat veteran and photo journalist, Greg Mathieson, knows first hand all about the real Navy SEALs. There's Hollywood there, sure. But there is a lot more. Way more layers than just the Hollywood. He's been given some incredible access to the SEALs and the entire U.S. Navy Special Ops. The result is this. I'll have to work it because it's nine pounds. This new book pretty remarkable, "United States Naval Special Warfare, U.S. Navy SEALs." If you can see the glistening icon in the middle that thing is 14-karat gold plated and makes this book also very special. What is inside really is so.

What is remarkable, Greg Mathieson joins me now.

I was looking through this book and struck right away by the photos that I feel like I've always seen sort of as the photo ops that the government has given us and then everything else that took me into the layers about the Navy SEALs. What don't people know about them that you got and you put in this book?

GREG MATHIESON, AUTHOR: Well, my colleague and I worked on this for six years. We got behind the scenes to see things people don't see around the world. The SEALs wanted to put this out to show all of naval special warfare not just the SEALs and it goes in depth like no other book has done before.

BANFIELD: So the access that you got is crazy.

I want to just draw everyone's attention to this picture of Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker when he was led off to the Supermax.

There you are in what I could only have imagined was a top-secret operation. I don't understand how you got there.

MATHIESON: These aren't SEALs actually. These are U.S. Marshals. This is in a chapter that deals with terrorism and the marshals hired me in the past. That is part of the trust I've had with the government over the years that allowed me the access to cover the SEALs.

BANFIELD: Some of the other pictures that I found so remarkable. There was one picture that really stood out, a coffin.


BANFIELD: At first, I wasn't sure what I was seeing. It looked like a belt. This is a wooden coffin and those are the trident pins that the SEALs wear on their lapels. I'm only guessing this is a fallen comrade and they each took the pins off of their lapels and jammed them into the wood of the coffin?

MATHIESON: This is a recent tradition that happened in the past number of years where they actually, the SEALs who attend, yes, take their trident pins off their uniforms and pound them into the casket before it gets lowered into Arlington Cemetery.

BANFIELD: Some of the other things I was looking at, and I'm a bit of a geek nerd and a gear nerd, and when I look at these things and I see these guys, very few people would ever jump out of anything let alone a chopper like this wearing flippers but it just shows you, I don't think there is a better way to say it than the bad ass nature of these guys.

MATHIESON: Not only the flippers but the guy has a mini gun and is firing about 60,000 rounds a mint down on the ground for suppression fire before these guys are actually going to drop the zodiac below them and jump into the water.

BANFIELD: This is hard to make it out but this is the Zodiac strung underneath the chopper.

MATHIESON: Thousands of shells are falling down off this helicopter right now as this guy is firing.

BANFIELD: He is just a couple feet away from that remarkable ordnance delivery mechanism.

Another thing that you showed which I didn't know we ever were allowed to see was this kind of thing, the future of warfare. Some of the, I don't even know what to call this. A sea lion?

MATHIESON: It's called sea lion.


MATHIESON: Actually, a prototype they've been using for a number of years. It's a platform, the nose goes through the waves instead of a boat going over the waves this goes right through the waves. It actually sub merges down. This isn't classified. You can get this off a site somewhere out there now.

BANFIELD: I've never seen it before.

MATHIESON: It sub merges almost like a submarine a few feet below the water and there is a little tiny bulb on the top with a camera.

BANFIELD: There are a few pictures in this book of this. I thought there is no way that isn't classified but you're saying we do have access.


BANFIELD: So about the access, you started working on getting this kind of access.


BANFIELD: This is the most secretive group out there. It is really difficult. MATHIESON: I've been covering the White House for 30 years, Pentagon. I've been a correspondent covering the military overseas, all the wars. I was a producer for NBC during the Iraq war. We snuck into Iraq three months before the war started.

BANFIELD: But your work to gain this kind of access started back in '87?

MATHIESON: Yes. Actually back then the admiral who was in charge of the Navy SEALs retired and became one of my writers along with other SEALs and he has been reviewed by the Navy. The Navy wanted to put this out to show the entire concept of the Navy SEALs.

BANFIELD: When you say it has been reviewed by the Navy and you are very candid about this in what you write at the beginning of the book, there is a lot of digitization, things that have been carefully extracted from these photographs to protect not only the law but also the identities and the safety of a lot of these --


MATHIESON: We even took serial numbers off the guns.


MATHIESON: So the guys holding the guns, we've enlarged it as much as we can and took the serial number off the gun.

BANFIELD: So no one is in jeopardy.

MATHIESON: They can't track the gun, where it was manufactured, where it came from, where it is.

BANFIELD: As much oversight as there was it does feel like a remarkable peek-a-boo. By the way, a special fellow writing the opening of the book, he's never done it before. Who is it?

MATHIESON: President George W. Bush.

BANFIELD: Wow. So once again, it's nine pounds. I nearly didn't research the rest of my show because I was so engrossed in this thing. It is awesome. It really is an excellent piece of journalism.

MATHIESON: Available at Amazon.

BANFIELD: Will you sign this for me?

MATHIESON: Yes. It is available at Barnes and Nobles and

BANFIELD: It is expensive but not as much as I thought.

MATHIESON: Yeah, it's inexpensive. Inexpensive for that size.

BANFIELD: And the gold SEAL.

This is great. Thank you. Nice to meet you.

MATHIESON: Appreciate it. Thank you.

BANFIELD: Great work.

MATHIESON: Happy holidays.

BANFIELD: Wonderful to see this stuff. Happy holidays to you, too.

Coming up, the back lash over "Blackfish" hitting SeaWorld. Now some music stars and even school children are refusing to feed those dolphins and whales. Can the theme park save itself?


BANFIELD: Well, it seems like the performers are dropping like flies. Cancelling experiences at SeaWorld after the documentary "Blackfish" and now not just performers. A fifth grade class in Malibu canceled. They are not going on their field trip. It was an overnight trip, and it's been a tradition at that school for a decade. But when students and parents expressed their concerns after the documentary, the school called off the trip, forcing SeaWorld to release yet another statement saying, "'Blackfish' is misleading and inaccurate." And, quote, "it's disappointing this year's class from Point Dume, will not be participating because of the film."

We want to bring back our brand new social media consultant, Peter Shankman.

This is happening over and over.


BANFIELD: Is this the kind of thing that destroys a brand or is this a kind of thing the brand can withstand if it behaves in a certain way.

SHANKMAN: SeaWorld turned a GroupOn to start giving out specials to bring people to their parks. This never happened before.


SHANKMAN: This is an incredible hit they've taken.

And you know, the thing about it is, it's not so much new information. It's information being brought to life. Everyone who visited SeaWorld knew. You see a killer whale in a tank, you know that they're used to being in an ocean millions of square miles and now in a small tank. You process, something must be wrong, bringing to light like that and having celebrities saying we don't want to be a part of that has really hurt them. It's not gone away. It's continuing to draw fire all over the place.

BANFIELD: If you're SeaWorld, I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of the documentary and how people feel about it and everybody has a legitimate point of view, if you're trying to rescue this brand, is there a way to do it given the fact that you want to litigate against CNN or the film company? What do you do?

SHANKMAN: Litigation confirms you're wrong. That's not going to help them. What will help them --


BANFIELD: It doesn't always confirm you're wrong.

SHANKMAN: You're SeaWorld, going after them for -- if that's the tact you have to take, you've shown the public, because it's a public story --


BANFIELD: If you're concerned about libel or defamation, sometimes that's the only tool people have in their trunk.

SHANKMAN: They have an opportunity to start working with fish and wildlife groups around the world and bring them in and say, OK, here's what we're doing, open the gates, show them everything they're doing and say, here what happens we're doing, here's why we believe we're OK and if we're doing something wrong, work with the best doctors and show us how to make it better.

BANFIELD: Are you saying, when trying to deal with a crisis like this, I'm not a crook, go the opposite route, we are legitimate.


SHANKMAN: If they have nothing to hide -- there's pros and cons and people have their opinion. Their best bet, open up the gates, here's what we have, here's what we do, we're being transparent about this. Being transparent will always save you.

BANFIELD: They're still litigating the Dawn Brancheau issue.


It may not be in their best interest from a legal point of view --


SHANKMAN: From a legal point of view. Going to GroupOn? That tells you -- if they're not saying it, sales are down, tickets are down, entrance to the park is down.

BANFIELD: Talking about it is a good thing.

Good to see you. Thank you, again. Appreciate it.

So what do you think the biggest story of 2013 was? I want you to tell me. Tell us. We've got voting under way at Click on the page, see a list of 20 stories, ones that had us talking. We'd like you to choose your top 10. December 30th, that's one day after my birthday -- just saying. What did you get me? At 9:00 eastern time, we'll reveal the top-10 stories of 2013 voted upon by you, our viewers, most important part of the relationship.


BANFIELD: Now that the website is working better, pressure's on to increase enrollment, and Obamacare and the president launched his secret, not-so-secret weapon. Michelle Obama asking people to sign up for health care coverage. Have a listen.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: This act provides a safety net for millions and millions of Americans, but we have to take the next step to go check it out, sign up, and make sure that we're covered. That should be our new year's resolution to ourselves.


BANFIELD: The White House is hoping the first lady's popularity will help increase enrollment numbers.

But I'm flat out of time. Thanks for watching.

AROUND THE WORLD starts now.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Dennis Rodman touched down on his third trip to North Korea, one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. He says he's there to help the basketball team. But could he actually influence his friend, the North Korean dictator, just days after the dictator executed his own uncle.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Now learning a British tabloid listened in on Kate Middleton and Prince William's phone messages while dating. The transcript even read in court today.

MALVEAUX: And protesters in India burn American flags and mock the president after an Indian diplomat was arrested and strip-searched in New York.

Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes.