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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Obama Announces Re-establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Havana; Sony Pictures Pulls 'The Interview'; Pope Francis Helped Has Promoted End of Cuba Isolation; Aftermath of Deadly School Attack in Pakistan
Aired December 17, 2014 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, thanks for joining us.
A very big night. A lot to report on tonight. President Obama opening the door to Cuba, closing the door on more than half a century of cold war history and feeling the heat for it.
We begin, though, with breaking news in the Sony attackers who threaten to commit an act, a 9/11-style terror to stop the movie about the North Korea's dictator. Today, Sony Pictures pull the movie including on DVD or on demand according to "Variety." Tonight, we are learning that federal authorities already do point the finger for all at the North Korean regime.
Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown who has been working her sources. She joins us now with the latest.
What do we know about what U.S. officials have learned?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's really significant, Anderson, that now the U.S. is poised to attribute the Sony hack. And now, we're learning that that will happen. It could happen as early as tomorrow and we're learning the U.S. is expected to point the finger at North Korea in this.
My sources tell me that in early December, there was a growing sense of confidence within the government and within Sony that North Korea was responsible for this. Sources say that the tactics, techniques, the procedures used as well as the motivation behind this was right out of the North Korean play book.
We know that some of the code in used was written in Korean and that part of the hack mimic of the same type of hacking against South Korean banks last year. And so, there was this growing sense that North Korea was responsible. So, as this investigation was continuing, there was these closed door meetings here in Washington with high level government officials about this issue.
They were trying to decide, Anderson, what to do. So they had the strong suspicion it's North Korea. OK. So, if we out them and point the finger at them, then what are we going to do next?
So, we will soon find out what the decision is. We do believe according to our sources that the government will call out North Korea. We're not quite sure in what form. We know, the last time that similar cases with the -- by Chinese military hackers and they filed charges against them. Right now, we don't know what we're going to see from the department of justice when they make this announcement, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Pamela Brown. We will have more on this shortly. Thanks very much.
Now, Cuba which at one time was at the center of a crisis that could have ended the world as we know it, there is simply no hyping that.
Fifty-two years ago, the United States and Soviet Union came close to all-out nuclear war over Cuba and ever since, American presidents in both parties have tried to isolate the country. T least once, John F. Kennedy tried to kill of its leader, Fidel Castro.
Today, after a year-and-a-half of secret negotiations and an oval office phone call yesterday to work out final details with Cuba's current president, Raul Castro. President Obama announced the re- establishment of diplomatic relations with Havana.
Speaking today with ABC's David Muir, Mr. Obama talked about that call.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This last conversation was substantive. I was very insistent with him that we would continue to promote democracy and human rights and speak out forcefully on behalf of the freedom of the people of Cuba.
DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: President Castro's brother, Fidel Castro, is he aware of what happened? Does he approve?
OBAMA: I'm not sure. I don't know what Fidel Castro's health status is. That's not an issue that was raised during the conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, today is the great revolve around the prisoners slap the U.S. sending back three Cuban spies who in held since 2001. And Cuba sending back an American agent after nearly 20 years in prison there. And separately what they called the humanitarian gesture, Cuba also released an American aid contractor, Alan Gross, who was sentenced back in 2009 to 15 years in prison allegedly for plotting to destroy the revolution.
There are new photos of his departure tonight. At the briefing today, he singled out the Cuban people, but not the Castro regime for praise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN GROSS, RELEASED FROM CUBAN PRISON: In no way are they responsible for the ordeal to which my family and I have been subjected. To me, Cubanos are incredibly kind, generous and talented. It pains me to see them treated so unjustly as a consequence of two governments, mutually belligerent policies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now to be clear, some of the policies will not be changing anytime soon and a lot of people fled the Castro regime or no people who suffered under it, do not want them to change. They think this is a bad idea. They're speaking up and promising that President Obama will pay a steep political price for making this deal. We will talk about that shortly.
But first, the very latest from Washington and Havana where CNN is the only network with a full-time operation, Patrick Oppmann is there. CNN's Jim Acosta is at the White House.
Jim, what do we know more about how and why this deal came together and now?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, first of all, this is not a lifting of the embargo. This is the cold war between the U.S. and Cuba starting to thaw and this diplomatic deal is a result of secret talks, as you said, that have been going on with the communist nation. They started nearly 18 months ago, June of last year.
Senior administration officials say most of these discussions took place in Canada and were led by the national security advisor, deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes. And that those wheels were in motion, we should point out, when the president and Fidel Castro shook hands in Nelson Mandela's memorial service. I was there last December in South Africa.
But all along, one key sticking point, as you mention, Anderson, remain and that was the imprisonment of Alan Gross in Cuba. And then, earlier this year, Pope Francis stepped in. He sent letters to President Obama and Raul Castro urging both of these leaders to resolve this issue of Gross' status, to push the talks forward. The Vatican welcomed officials from U.S. and Cuba to Rome just last October.
All of this happening, of course, with nobody really knowing about this except for the parties involved. And then as you said, Mr. Obama and Raul Castro hammered this out the rest of the deal in this phone conversation last night.
COOPER: And to what extent can Congress still stall this if not stop it altogether?
ACOSTA: Well, Congress is not as divided as it once was. The Republicans were in-charge of the House and the Senate. But it is not clear whether or not the votes are really there to override the presidential veto, if they try to pass legislation, forcing the president's hand. Of course, he would veto it and they are probably are not enough votes to override that.
Marco Rubio said today he would block any ambassador to Cuba. So, we should watch that process play out because the president is determined to put one there. He says he wants to starve the administration of any kind of funding to open an embassy. But what the administration said today and the White House press secretary said today, Anderson, is that there's already a U.S. intra-section in Havana. The people are there. The building is there. And so, all they have to do is call the embassy essentially at this point.
COOPER: And I think there is already an ambassador who resident. The U.S. has maintained all this time that still there in Havana. What happens next? I mean, most Americans right now can't just book a trip and travel to Cuba freely?
ACOSTA: That's right, the Embargo is still in place. The travel ban is still in place. You need Congress to overdo that. So Americans won't be able to go to orbits or travel and book a trip to Havana. They are still up to go to these third party travel agents which are authorized by the federal government to arrange trips. But they have expanded, the administration has expanded the reasons why you can go to Cuba before is for journalistic, or religious, or cultural reasons. Now, it is just about any . And so, you are going to see more and more Americans go if they can afford the price.
At the same time, we should point out, we ask this question earlier today. Will Americans be able to buy a Cuban cigar at a store in the United States? No, you have to bring cigars out of Cuba if you travel there, only up to $100 worth of tobacco and rum.
And so, there's still sort of these quirky goofy restrictions that are still in place. Americans can travel just about anywhere around the world, Anderson, freely. They can book these trips on their own. But they will still not be able to do it 100 percent of freely to Cuba. They have to go to these travel agents that are authorized by the federal government. So, it's a step forward but it is not a total lifting of the embargo and the travel ban.
COOPER: They will start to be able to use credit cards for sometimes which obviously big step.
ACOSTA: That's right.
COOPER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Next, Patrick Oppmann with reaction in Cuba's capital. So you're in Havana. What have people been saying today?
PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There have been celebrations. There have been tears. It was little surreal this morning when the news broke, Anderson. But it is still was over two hours until Cubans heard about it. There is tightly controlled state media.
Really, wasn't until noon when Raul Castro took to the airwaves. Then an unprecedented speech to the nation where he was talking about the respect he felt for President Obama, towards the necessity of a better relationship moving forward. And the words of his brother, Fidel Castro, never used. So Cubans were taken aback by that, taken aback by this prisoner swap, by Raul Castro talking about the 53 political prisoners that will be released here in Cuba at the request of the U.S. about the need to set up an embassy here in Havana, replacing the U.S. intersection. Then the media set up a Cuban embassy in Washington. And the, really, the need for a closer relationship moving forward.
During this speech all around us, we start hearing bells tolling in the section of Havana. You really got the sense that we were experiencing something quite historic, Anderson. And of course, what happens now, there will be ripple effects for months, if not years, after today's events. And in a lot of ways, it will put the Cuban government more in the hot seat. For 50 some years, they've blamed every economic in this island. And it has experienced on the U.S. embargo.
Of course, U.S. embargo is still in place, but it is going to be lose some of the teeth and will the Cuban economy pick up? Will Cuban's people's lives improve? They certainly expect that it will and now it's up to the Cuban government more than ever to deliver that.
COOPER: Also part of this deal, loosening of rules on the Internet usage in Cuba, which is obviously tightly controlled, still, by this very tough regime.
Any word -- we heard earlier President Obama saying he's not clear on the status of Cuba's former president Fidel Castro, and his health status, any updates on his whereabouts?
OPPMANN: No, no reaction from Fidel Castro. We have not seen any pictures of him since late August. It's just another sign that Raul Castro is running the show here. Fidel Castro is a figurehead, but with no indications that he was involved and may not even have been aware of the deal -- Anderson.
COOPER: Patrick Oppmann, appreciate it tonight from Havana. As you might imagine, political reaction has been divided. They are not exclusively among party lines. New Jersey democratic senator, for instance, Robert Menendez who is a Cuban-American, he condemned the deal.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, talking about Mr. Gross, called it a hallelujah day and a hopeful stab toward what he hopes will be a rebirth of economic ties between Florida and Cuba. His republican counterpart, though, Cuban-American Marco Rubio strongly disagrees.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie. The lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people. All of this is going to do is give the Castro regime which controls every aspect of Cuban life the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: This debate has been going on for decades. Because just so many involve, it is very deeply personal, obviously.
Joining us now, CNN political commentator and GOP strategist Ana Navarro, also CNN contributor Dan Restrepo who served five years as special assistance to President Obama and senior director for western security affairs on the national security council.
Ana, I know you're very critical of his agreement. To Marco Rubio's point, the U.S. has relations with China, with Vietnam, why not with Cuba?
ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, China and Vietnam are not in the state-sponsored terrorism list as Cuba has been. Now, President Obama had instructing Secretary Kerry to take them off.
And you know, Anderson, part of it, yes, it is internal politics. The bottom line is that there are a lot of Cuban American victims who live in the United States and they have developed and flexed their political muscle. There are three Cuban American senators serving in the U.S. Senate. There are also U.S. Congress people in the U.S. Congress on both parties. And they stick together when it comes to this because it is so important to the firsthand victims that they represent.
COOPER: Dan, what do you say? I mean, you serve in the Obama White House. What do you say to the charges that this is essentially rewarding bad behavior, as rewarding a repressive regime?
DAN RESTREPO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And you know, the policy that has been the metric (ph) failure in reaching its goals isn't a reward to anybody. I mean, continuing the policy would have been a reward to those who it benefits. This gives the United States an opportunity to b much more relevant in the future of Cuba. And a lot of the American people to be much more relevant to the future of Cuba.
I mean, one of the things I just wholeheartedly agree with Marco Rubio, with Ana Navarro, with the folks who deeply disagree with what the president did today, is that we need to see a free and democratic Cuba.
And what the president did today, he say look, we haven't been successfully in getting there with the policy that we've been following for the last 55 plus years. Let's try something different and let's try something that's been consistent with what Marco Rubio calls an illusion and a lie has been the basis of U.S.-born policy, domestic -- Democrat and Republican since the end of world war II.
The greater commerce, greater economic interaction is part of the path to opening societies that clearly don't want to be open. But I'm under no illusions, the Cuban authorities don't want to open up. But playing the same game that they have been mastering for 50 years isn't a way to achieve that.
COOPER: Ana, what do you say to Dan? He says, look, this is the policy that for 50 years has attempted to change the regime in Cuba, change the direction of the regime and it has failed to do that? NAVARRO: If toppling the Castro regime is the objective, yes, that
wasn't achieved. But they've also been, right now, on the ropes. A lot of what their survival depends on Venezuelan oil money which is drying up. Their economy is in shambles.
And frankly, what I say is that look, we've held it in place for 50 plus years. The Cuban regime, the two Castro brothers have been there since January 1st, 1959. That's over half a century. We are a lot closer to the end than we are to the beginning. And so now, when we are so close to the end of the Castros, the end of that regime.
When you haven't even seen Fidel Castro react to this because you know what, if he's alive, he's too weak or too senile to know that this just happened and react. Now, that we are so close to the end of those two dictators who have oppressed these people for over half a century, now we're going to change and do it unilaterally without them lifting the oppression?
COOPER: Ana, what sign do you see though, that -- I mean, obviously, Fidel Castro is on his last legs, but Raul Castro is firmly in-charge. It doesn't seem in that transfer of power to Raul Castro there was any weakening of the state, the central power. What makes you think even if Raul Castro was to go, the policies wouldn't continue?
NAVARRO: You know, I think, Anderson, that the Cuba regime, the Castro regime is very Fidel-centric, It is very Castro-centric. And when the figure of Fidel Castro disappears permanently, I think it is going to weaken that government tremendously because so many people, you know, it's the cult of Fidel. The same way that it was the cult of Chavez and we have seen that Meduro (ph) is nowhere near as capable of keeping that government in Venezuela under control.
And then let's face it. Raul Castro is pretty elderly himself. They're both in their 80s.
COOPER: Dan, how hard is it for President Obama to move forward this? I mean, you have Marco Rubio saying he is going to block funding for Cuban embassy. Hold up any ambassador role.
RESTREPO: I think it's important to disassociate those two things. The U.S. has the largest diplomatic presence of any country in Cuba, in Havana today. The U.S. intersection is the largest diplomatic gathering in the country. It's housed in the building that was the U.S. embassy before we broke off diplomatic relations. So the notion that you're going to shut that operation down when, really, what you're doing is changing the sign on the door is one that doesn't square up with reality that much.
Marco Rubio can certainly make it challenging to get an ambassador confirmed. The good thing here is, the United States has incredibly capable ambassadorial ranked, diplomat career foreign services officer, Jeff DeLaurentis as the head of our intersection, when we normalize relations, he'll become sergeant of the affairs. The functional equivalent of when you don't have a confirmed ambassador to run that operation, and it's an operation that's can be quite important given the number of American who already visit the island on a regular basis like 300,000 to 400,000 Cuban-American who have been visiting Cuba since the president changed his policy in 2009. They should be afforded the same diplomatic protection of an embassy as U.S. travelers all over the world.
COOPER: Dam Restrepo, appreciate your perspective. Ana Navarro, as well. Thank you.
As always, you can watch 360 at 8:00 p.m. eastern and whenever you like. Just set your DVR and you're good to go.
Coming up next, former president Jimmy Carter joins me. He reached out to Cuba more than 30 years ago. We will get his take on what happened today.
And later, we look closer at what Jim Acosta touched on. The behind the scenes role that Pope Francis played and his influence in communist Cuba.
COOPER: As we say at the top of the broadcast, reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba reverses the policy of nine presidents going back to 1961. In more ways than just policy from politics to pop culture on what might have been world war III, Cuba and United States have a whole lot of history between them.
COOPER (voice-over): January, 1959. The world meets Fidel Castro when the young revolutionary leads an armed revolt against Cuba's dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Batista fled leaving Castro to take over.
Later that year, in a visit to Washington, the new Cuban president met U.S. vice president Richard Nixon. But relations that started with this handshake quickly soured when in 1960, all U.S. businesses in Cuba were nationalized without compensation. In response, the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations and impose to trade embargo and it went downhill from there.
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, solemnly swear.
COOPER: In 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in and he is the 35th U.S. president Cuban exiles trained by the CIA. Attempted to overthrow Castro in the bail bay of pigs invasion.
Despite the batch (ph) effort, President Kennedy moved forward with attempts to destabilize the Cuban government including plans to assassinate Castro using a poison pen.
October 1962, the Cuban missile crisis. Fearing an invasion from the U.S., Castro allowed soviet missiles on its soil causing panic. And American U2 spy plane photographed nuclear missile site being built in Cuba by the Soviet Union. And the showdown of the United Nations, U.S. demanded their removal. KENNEDY: It will be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear
missile, launch from Cuba or against any nation in the western hemisphere as an attack.
COOPER: The Soviet Union blinked and the missiles were removed.
Almost two decades later in 1980, the Cuban government allowed people to leave the country without a permit. Nearly 125,000 Cubans fled the island and arrived by boat 90 miles away in Florida. At first, the U.S. welcomed the refugees but the sheer numbers overwhelmed facilities and the U.S. stopped to offering them asylum. And moved only, hide intention between the two countries.
The relationships simmered for nearly two decades until it boiled again around a 6-year-old boy named Elian Gonzalez who was rescued off the coast of Florida with his family fleeing Cuba.
In 2000, armed federal agents seized Gonzalez from his family in Miami returning him to Cuba to be with his father. He arrived back home a national hero.
Tensions began to thaw with the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. The new president lifted travel restrictions for family members to Cuba. And last year, the Nelson Mandela memorial service, then U.S. president and a leader of Cuba met and shook hands.
COOPER: And joining us now by phone, former president Jimmy Carter who tried during his administration to normalize ties with Havana. And more recently worked to win Alan Gross' freedom.
President Carter, thanks for joining us. What do you say to those critics in both parties tonight who say this is basically rewarding a repressive dictatorship and giving up leverage the United States might have had with Cuba?
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via phone): Well, the agreement is not supposed to help the Cuban dictators and it doesn't. But the agreement does it helps both the Cuban people and the American people in the long-term.
When I was a president, as you just mentioned, we started the diplomatic relations process and we established major intersections in both Havana and also in Washington. The last time I was Cuba, just two or three years ago, we had over 300 diplomats serving in the intersection in Havana. And that will continue, I think, no matter what happens.
So, the normal diplomatic relations will be very good. And I hope that in Congress will go ahead and remove the embargo, all the sanctions because that doesn't hurt the Castro brothers. It just hurts the people of Cuba, about 11 million of them, who had to suffer because of our own imposed economic sanctions.
So I think this is a good move for both Cubans and also Americans. And I think it will be a major step forward to bring about more freedom and more democracy and more respect for human rights in Cuba as well.
COOPER: Critics of this, though, say, as you know, that if it alleviates the economic pressure against the regime though, that, effect, that would helps the Cuban people that does help the dictatorship because it allows, I mean, if it improves their economy, that does benefit the regime, no?
CARTER: Well, in a country where we impose sanctions, it's almost impossible to imagine that the dictators themselves or their immediate staff or their top friends are going to be suffering economically. They've got all they want.
I've been to the home of both Raul Castro and also Fidel Castro in the last few years and they're not suffering at all. But the 11 million people of Cuba suffer. We have a lot of farmers in Georgia who have been going down to Cuba under very tight restrictions to sell corn and chickens and other things to the Cuban people.
This will help American farmers. It will help the average Cuban and it will also lead towards better respect for human rights, in my opinion, as we have a flood of American citizens going and letting Cuban people know what democracy really means.
COOPER: Senator Marco Rubio today made the point that this is basically sending a message to any dictatorship that they can illegally arrest, inappropriately arrest an American, hold them prisoner and ultimately get some sort of concessions from the U.S. government.
CARTER: I watched him on television. I thought what he said was absolutely ridiculous. There's no rational or logic to what he had to say. And he, the aspects of he criticize on what President Obama did.
This is a very wise and very courageous thing for President Obama to do. And in my opinion, is long overdue. In my time in the White House, we would have had diplomatic relationships then, if they build on the enormous diplomatic staff, we have maintained ever since 1979 in Havana and in Washington.
COOPER: Do you see -- I mean, it's interesting. Obviously, you know Fidel Castro and Raul Castro. Raul Castro, how does he compare to Fidel Castro? Is he as hard lined as Fidel Castro? Do you see any efforts or any willingness of this regime of Raul Castro to really effect change towards democracy?
CARTER: But people in Cuba still really respect and revere almost Fidel Castro. But there's no doubt that under Raul's presidency, there have been a lot of openness and reforms implemented in Cuba, particularly, economic in nature. A lot of things are permitted in Cuba now that were not permitted as long as Fidel was in office.
So I think with Raul, this is what he told me personally, and what he was told all the visitors is he's looking for an opportunity to open up Cuba but very carefully step by step. I think that's what we have to expect.
COOPER: As you said, most of the changes under Raul Castro have been economic. I believe now they can sell cars to each other, they can sell actually even property to each other, though not necessarily, I think to foreigners, not 100 percent on that. But in terms of loosening of the, you know, binds under which the Cuban people live, Internet use has obviously been restricted though under this apparently it's going to lifted somewhat. Do you believe that they will be willing to move towards a greater openness?
CARTER: Well, I wouldn't expect anything right away. You know, Raul has already announced that he's going to step down in a few years. I don't know exactly how long, but there's no doubt the Cuban people will be much more inclined towards openness in government as they have this greatly increased contact with visiting Americans and others around the world.
As a matter of fact, American citizens right this moment, (INAUDIBLE), deprived of the right, a human right to travel where we want to go. Now, really, we're the only ones who can't go to Cuba. If you go anywhere else in the world and live, you live and go to Cuba. So this has been a restraint on Americans as well as it has been on the Cubans.
COOPER: Former president Jimmy Carter, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much for being with us.
CARTER: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Up next, how Pope Francis help broker this new chapter in U.S.-Cuba relations. You heard it right, Pope Francis. We will tell you how he was involved ahead.
COOPER: We are covering the historic decision to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba. The secret talks that led up to it and the role behind the scenes that Pope Francis played a role that President Obama revealed today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: To those who have supported these measures, I thank you for being partners in our efforts. In particular, I want to thank his holiness to Pope Francis whole moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be rather than simply settling for the world as it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Oh, that certainly got everyone's attention. The president calls him "the real deal". Here to talk about this Father Thomas Reese, senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter. Father, thanks for being with us. So, Pope Francis personally wrote letters to both President Obama and Cuba's President Raul Castro, there was a diplomatic meeting at the Vatican in October. Do you know how this all played out behind the scenes?
REV. THOMAS REESE, CATHOLIC PRIEST: Well, it all began last January when John Kerry visited the Vatican and personally asked the Vatican for its help in getting Alan Gross freed. And then President Obama, when he came to the Vatican in March followed up on that. And so, the Vatican, the pope put his diplomatic professional staff to work on this and eventually the pope wrote a letter to both presidents, the president of Cuba and the president of the United States encouraging them to resolve this issue.
COOPER: And I mean hearing not only President Obama but also Raul Castro today thanking Pope Francis in their speeches, it really underscores the significance of this and the influence of this pope.
REESE: Oh, yes, this pope wants to be a bridge builder. I mean that's what the name pontiff means. He wants to build bridges between the U.S. and Cuba, between Israelis and Palestinians. He wants to work for peace. Which, of course, this is an obligation of every Christian to work for justice and peace in the world. That's what we're called by the gospel to do and the pope has a very unique position and opportunity to do this and this pope is going to do it.
COOPER: Well, it's also interesting when you look at the history of involvement by popes in Cuba. John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998, Pope Benedict visited in 2012. Do you think the fact that Pope Francis is the first Latin American pope that that played a role in all of this?
REESE: Well, certainly, he was familiar with the issues coming from Latin America. And I am sure that, you know, his concern for what's happening in the Western Hemisphere made this a priority for him. So, he was more than happy to work on this. But you are right, I mean, you know, Pope John Paul II when he visited in 1998, called for Cuba to be open to the world and the world to be open to Cuba. And that was a very clear signal to both Cuba and to the United States to work on this. And, you know, and the pope is really responding to the concerns of the bishops in Cuba who would like to see diplomatic relations restored and especially would like to see the embargo ended.
COOPER: Father Thomas Reese, I appreciate you being on, thank you very much.
REESE: You're welcome.
COOPER: Coming up next, more on our breaking news tonight, U.S. investigators telling CNN that North Korea is responsible for the hacking attack on Sony. This is after the company canceled the release of the movie that started it all, new details next.
COOPER: Tonight breaking news is we reported the tough program sources say that federal authorities are preparing to announce North Korea is behind the Sony hacking attacks and those threats against U.S. movie theaters. Now, today, Sony pictures pulled the upcoming movie "The Interview" saying it has no plans for its release in the future. The comedy about the plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was set for release on Christmas day. Earlier the country's largest theater chain said they had decided not to show the movie because of those threats. When ABC News asked President Obama about it tonight, he said for now, our recommendation be go to the movies. Back with us tonight is CNN's Pamela Brown. So, we learned the U.S. might make a formal announcement basically accusing North Korea tomorrow. Is that correct?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It could come as early as tomorrow, we are hearing from sources, but from talking to folks in the government tonight, the sense I get is that they're still trying to figure out exactly how they want to make this announcement. It's very difficult to make attribution, but sources say that they're very confident that North Korea was behind the Sony hack. They say in the techniques that were used, the tools, the procedures, the motivation here. All the clues were pointing towards North Korea. And in early December, I am told that's when U.S. investigators really felt like it was North Korea.
But again, it's not necessarily what you know, it's what you can prove. And so, I think, right now U.S. officials under this mounting pressure to make an announcement are trying to figure out how they can lay out the case, a credible case, to prove this is why we think it's North Korea. And so, that's what they're working on right now. But this has been an extraordinary case. The fact that they've done this in just a few weeks, Anderson, is really unheard of. Look at the Chinese hacking case where the military members were charged. That took years. This is just a few weeks.
COOPER: Is it clear if North Korea did this alone or outsourced the job?
BROWN: Well, there's a lot of speculation that they outsourced it to perhaps another group, a criminal gang or whether or not this was emanating from what's called Bureau 121. This is a group in North Korea where the country has poured resources into it and they're believed to be behind the side or attack against South Korean banks last year. At this point, we don't have clarity on exactly who the U.S. government has pinpointed to be behind this. Whether this is coming from hackers within North Korea under the direction of the North Korean government or whether this was outsourced to another group in perhaps another country, Anderson.
COOPER: Remarkable developments today. Pamela Brown, thank you very much. Joining me now is cyber security expert Jim Lewis. He's a senior fellow at the CSIS, strategic technologies program. Jim, thanks for being with us. I want to ask you about this breaking news that CNN learned, U.S. has prepared to name North Korea as a Sony hacker. A, does it surprise you and how savvy are they in terms of their capabilities on hacking?
JAMES LEWIS, CYBERSECURITY EXPERT: It's not a big surprise. I mean the North Koreans are the ones who stood the most to benefit and they've been investing in these kind of cyber capabilities for about 20 years. It's been a concern for their leadership. They've had a few thousand people who can do it and in the last two or three years, they've mounted four or five big attacks against South Korea. The surprising thing here is that they've finally gone outside of South Korea, done something against the U.S. But it's always been the case that this is what they wanted to do.
COOPER: And these hackers threatening a 9/11 type attack if the movie was actually released, you know, in theaters, are they actually capable of anything like that? I mean how serious do you believe that threat of violence really is?
LEWIS: North Korea loves bombastic threats and if you look at their propaganda videos online, it will show you them nuking Washington and sinking aircraft carriers. They love threats. They hardly ever carry them out. And in this case, they do not have the capability to carry out a cyber-9/11. They've improved remarkably. Four years ago, they could not have done what they did today, but they are not yet at the point, really no country is at the point where you could do a cyber- 9/11.
COOPER: And when people talk about a cyber-9/11. What does it even entail? What are you talking about - shutting down or tacking the energy facility?
LEWIS: Yeah, and that's why I don't like the term, because what you're talking about is blackouts or interfering with pipelines, maybe interfering with financial systems. You know, what we've seen is people can't use their ATMs and that's a little bit of a disconnect. Turning out the lights. That would make people unhappy. But it's hard to do much more than that. The Koreans have gotten a lot better in the last few years, but they are not at the point where they could do real damage.
COOPER: And how capable are other countries or other actors of doing that kind of thing, turning out the lights, turning out - down ATM machines at this point?
LEWIS: We have four countries that are principal opponents in cyberspace. Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. And that's the order of their capabilities. The Russians could pretty much do whatever they wanted, right? They won't do it unless they have cause to. Unless they are in the conflict with us. The Chinese are also good, but again, they are unlikely to attack us outside of the military conflict. Iran has been the most worrisome until this Korean incident because they have probed infrastructure, they have looked at energy companies. They thought about turning off the lights and, of course, they were responsible for this audio Ramco (ph) attack last year. North Korea has come up really fast in the rankings, but they are not at the top of the league.
COOPER: Wouldn't North Korea have to outsource a job like this in some way?
LEWIS: Probably not because to outsource, you'd have to go to the Russians, the Chinese or maybe the Iranians and each of those countries keeps very tight control over their hacker groups. Only if they decided they were willing to risk a fight with the U.S. would they let someone support North Korea, so probably not. COOPER: It's interesting at a country like North Korea which limits
the Internet and restricts it so much would have armies of hackers even if it's a few hundred people capable of such a sophisticated attack.
LEWIS: I used to kid that we didn't have to worry about North Korea because it's hard to be a hacker power when you don't have electricity, but they've poured resources into this field. They probably have a few thousand potential hackers. It's interesting. IT has been a growth goal for the North Koreans. They even allow a few private North Korean companies to subcontract for European firms. So, this is a place where they've done a lot of work.
COOPER: That's fascinating. Jim Lewis, I appreciate your expertise. Thank you very much.
LEWIS: Thank you.
COOPER: Just ahead, a first look at the crime scene inside of Pakistan school where 132 children were massacred before help finally arrived.
COOPER: We wanted to get you up to date on the terror attack in Pakistan. Difficult pictures to look at today. For the first time, we see inside the school in Peshawar. That was the scene of the Taliban massacre yesterday, what's left is heartache and a scene of carnage that we warn you is hard to watch. Nic Robertson reports.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tumbled chairs. Concrete walls chewed apart by a fuselage of bullets, few of the children in these classrooms could dodge. Evidence of the ferocity of the Taliban's craven attack is everywhere. Floors still soaked in the blood of the innocents. This town is drenched in grief. Funeral after funeral. Most between 12 and 16 years old, many buried in their school uniforms. The smaller they are, the heavier they are to carry, one official said. Education in this impoverish town of 3 million is everything. No one saw this coming. Survivors now wondering how they made it through.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY (through translator): We hid in the locker room and pretended to be dead. They kind of believed us, but two students and a teacher caught their attention so they shot them in the head to make sure they were dead.
NIDENTIFIED BOY (through translator): Six men entered the hall. They opened fire on some students. Some died on the spot and others were injured.
ROBERTSON: Vigils are lighting up across the country. Sympathy is strong and so is condemnation of the Taliban. It is rarely this universal and rarely this visceral. And these men, some of them seemingly as young as their victims are the attackers according to the Taliban who say they planned and coordinated every murderous step the gunman took classroom to classroom. Brutality now becoming clear. Inside the school, a burnt office. A 28-year-old woman, an office assistant, not just shot but set alight here too. Too horrific for words.
COOPER: Nic, this is just such a sickening, sickening attack. What's the latest?
ROBERTSON: Well, the army is saying that it's continuing its offensive against the Taliban. The death penalty has been reinstated by the prime minister today against terrorists. In Peshawar today, the city, as we saw there, still in absolute shock. The schools have been closed. But the recriminations are growing. Today, you had the army chief of staff going to Afghanistan to say, hey, we've got to work together better on the Taliban against the Taliban and at the same time, the prime minister of Pakistan saying that this was planned by this Taliban from bases inside Afghanistan. Taliban themselves saying, not so. That everything was done, planned, and prepared here inside Pakistan. So this is what's happening at the moment.
COOPER: Nic Robertson, thank you very much. Well, ending light, on a much lighter note, so we're going to make you smile. The end of (INAUDIBLE). We've got "The Ridiculist" coming up. We'll be right back.
COOPER: It was the week before Christmas and all through the Ridiculist, not a creature was stirring except for two little boys in Wisconsin who were very, very determined to get a hold of Santa.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Tried to call Santa.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you actually dial?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: 9-1-1.
COOPER: When went to the moms wondering, who should appear about a police officer at her front door, because her kids had just called 9- 1-1.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this a life-threatening emergency? Can we help you? And I said no, the kids were trying to call Santa.
COOPER: All right, the kids did not get Santa on the phone, they did, however, a tour of the police station and a lesson about when to call the police. Now, here's a good way to remember this time of year. If it's stalking related, yes. Christmas stocking related, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never have I heard of a 9-1-1 call in an attempt to reach Santa Claus. You know, the unfortunate thing is the North Pole is out of our jurisdiction. COOPER: Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, it was a tree emergency that got
a town called Redding in an uproar. The city put up the scraggly yuletide specimen. Now, some people are kind of sweet, others were kind of like hey, maybe let's not deck the halls with bows of fuggly (ph) this year. What I mean to say is, reaction was mixed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's nasty, it's pathetic and they shouldn't have it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is incredible. And one, I'm glad that they're paying a homage to the Charlie Brown.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it was a squirrel right now looking for a place to live in the winter, it wouldn't even go into the tree.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, it does look a little pitiful. Very sad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I'm concerned you couldn't get a better tree.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is so ugly looking.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Birds are - are willing to hang on that tree. You know ...
COOPER: There was a fair amount of criticism around the Christmas tree, so the city was going to take it down, but then decided to go full Charlie Brown and decorated it with one ornament.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I like the tree. I like that Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I think Charlie Brown didn't it like, droop? Anyway, in fact, I've only seen one other tree this year better than that one. Take a look at this, for 27 years now, Sherry in California has bolted her Christmas tree to the ceiling. As you can see, she's the only one we know whose presents are over the tree. She says it takes about six hours to do this and writes, but she sends the picture to CNN because, quote, Anderson Cooper is so hot. That doesn't really make any sense. Let's cool things off a little bit, shall we? With the trip to Wisconsin, where every day around this time of year, woman dresses up as an abominable snow monster from the Rudolph TV special and watch her poodle.
COOPER: Of course. Why wouldn't she do that? The sight brings joy to children and adults alike. Oh, yeah. I'm sure that's the reaction of every child. There's joy, not freak out screaming. That would have been my reaction as a child. Wow. It's like some nightmare Christmas. Also, apparently, some words of Christmas wisdom are brought out. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Love all, care about all, beyond holidays.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: OK. That is the most frightening thing I have seen all year. Can we play that again? Because that's like, I mean, that's like from the horror movie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Love all, care about all, beyond holidays.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: OK, I will! I will love all, I will care about all beyond holidays, monster Christmas monster! Just go away with your poodle. It's so bad for the poodle, sweet all dog.
Well, with that, I say Merry Ridiculist to all and to all a good night. Reminder to vote for your favorite Ridiculist of 2014 at ac360.com. We'll count down the top five on air. That's it for us. We'll see you again 11 PM Eastern tonight for another edition of 360. All the latest n Cuba. CNN Special Report Live with Erin Burnett starts now.