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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries; Investigation Into New York Police Killings Continues; North Korean Internet Down amid Sony Hack Uproar; Comedy No Laughing Matter in North Korea; Western Author Allowed Inside ISIS And Gets Out Alive
Aired December 22, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now. America's top law enforcement officer calls the ambush murder of two New York City police officers an assassination. Stand by for more on the breaking news.
Plus, a major disruption of North Korea's Internet. Is there any link to the cyber attack on Sony Pictures?
New details on that and Kim Jong-Un's brazen threats against the United States.
And a Westerner has given rare access to ISIS terrorists on their own turf. Stand by for our exclusive interview on why he was allowed in, what he saw, and how he got out alive.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. The attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, now condemning the execution-style murder of two New York City police officers in the strongest terms, flat-out calling it an assassination.
New York City officials just released new information about their deaths and about the gunman who killed himself. There's huge concern right now about the safety of police officers nationwide. Some big city departments are on alert. They are ordering new security precautions.
The congressman who represents the Brooklyn area where the two officers were killed is standing by. There he is, along with our correspondents, our analysts. We're covering all the stories. The breaking news happening right now.
First, let's get the very latest and let's go to CNN's Martin Savidge. He's on the streets of Brooklyn, joining us right now -- Martin.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you point out, behind us here, there is this memorial. It continues to grow. New Yorkers here are still in shock and still in mourning. Many felt they had to come here in person just to see this site for themselves.
Alerts, as you say, have gone out nationwide. But many are also struck not just by the violence here, but the question, could it happen somewhere else? And they're reminded how divided the leadership of this city is. Here's what we found.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Moments after murder. This cell phone video shot from a Brooklyn balcony looks down on a street, capturing the frantic efforts Saturday afternoon to try to save the live of two New York police officers shot as they sat in their patrol car. One is already in an ambulance, another wheeled across a stunned and shut down street.
Less than a block away at a subway station, suspected shooter Ismaaiyl Brinsley kills himself as police close in. At the hospital, officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu both die, the result of what authorities say was an ambush.
PATRICK LYNCH, PRESIDENT, PATROLMEN'S BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION: This was a cold-blooded assassination like we haven't seen before.
SAVIDGE: The gunfire had barely subsided before the finger-pointing began, exposing to a nation what New Yorkers already knew. A deep and bitter divide exists between New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York's police force.
As the mayor walked through the hospital after just meeting with the families of the dead patrolmen, New York's finest could be seen turning their backs moments before he addressed a shocked city. The head of one New York police union blamed the mayor directly.
LYNCH: There's blood on many hands tonight. That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.
BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Put aside protests. Put side demonstrations. Until these funerals are passed, let's focus just on these families and what they have lost.
SAVIDGE: Today, the mayor called for an end to protests after his police commissioner said the killings may have been linked.
WILLIAM BRATTON, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: It's quite a panic, quite obvious that the targeting of these two police officers was a direct spinoff of this issue with these demonstrations.
SAVIDGE: On social media, suspect Brinsley commented on the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner after grand juries in New York and Missouri decided not to bring criminal charges against authorities for their killings.
He wrote: "I'm putting wings on pigs today. They take one of ours, let's take two of theirs."
Brinsley made that post even as he drove from Baltimore bound for Brooklyn Saturday after earlier shooting his ex-girlfriend. Baltimore authorities tried to warn New York police of the potential danger following Brinsley by his cell phone, even transmitting this wanted poster with his picture.
In New York, the warning was about to go out when reports of the shooting came in.
SAVIDGE: There continues to be vigils that are held throughout the city. There's one that is going on right now. But there's also talk of protests similar to the ones that were seen in the weeks leading up. Despite the mayor's request for a moratorium, it remains to be seen if that will actually be honored.
Meanwhile, the first funeral of the fallen officer is expected to take place Saturday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Martin Savidge there in Brooklyn for us, thanks, Martin, very, very much.
Let's get some more on the breaking news we're following. The attorney general of the United States Eric Holder now publicly describing the deaths of those two NYPD police officers an assassination.
Let's bring in our justice reporter, Evan Perez.
Evan, this is pretty extraordinary for the attorney general to go ahead and say these two police officers were assassinated.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the attorney general is responding because there's been some criticism of him and the department for some of their investigations of police departments around the country and also for, at least in the view of some officers, not giving enough backing, not giving enough support to police officers.
Today, he had conference calls with activist groups, with civil rights groups to announce a new deputy attorney general, Sally Yates from Atlanta. In that call, he said -- he reminded everyone that his own brother was a former Port Authority police officer in New York and described that experience, and he said that it's not possible -- it's not only possible, but necessary to have both a responsible dialogue about ways to reduce excessive uses of force, while at the same time condemning threats to law enforcement officers and taking steps to protect cops on the beat.
Wolf, and that's one of his concerns now that the rhetoric has gotten out of control and he wants to make sure people understand that he supports the police, while also, as you said, making sure that these families know that he supports them.
BLITZER: The assassin, the murderer, the killer, whatever you want to call him, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, he shot and injured his ex-girlfriend. Then he drove to New York or was driven to New York, maybe went on a bus, I'm not exactly sure, but he got to New York. The Baltimore police, they were trying to get some information to the NYPD. You're getting new information on how this unfolded.
This was a frantic effort, Wolf. About 2:00 in the afternoon, 2:10 is when the Baltimore County Police Department realizes that he's in Brooklyn, and they want to make sure that the precinct up there is aware of this. They have a 30-minute conversation. The detective from Baltimore is having a conversation with the New York detectives to describe what's on these Instagram threats and to make sure they can get this information out to the officers.
At the request of NYPD, he sends a fax with a wanted poster of the suspect, Brinsley. Two, less than two minutes later, these officers were dead. It's not clear whether this information could have gotten to the officers in time. They never saw him coming.
BLITZER: That was the best technology they had, a fax machine?
PEREZ: It is a fair criticism of that. The NYPD says they're trying to install new iPads and smartphones, giving each officer this technology so that they can get this information more quickly.
A lot of times, Wolf, officers get this information when they show up for roll call in the morning or in the afternoon before their shift starts.
BLITZER: Evan Perez, thanks very much. Good reporting.
Let's get some more now on the political backlash against the New York City mayor.
Let's go to CNN's Miguel Marquez. He's in New York City for us.
Miguel, we have seen some strong reactions from police, the head of one of the city's largest police unions. Tell us what's going on here, because this is really tense. It's no good for anyone that there is this awful relationship right now between the mayor and the cops.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a major city, and Mayor de Blasio here is sort of on his back foot, if not under extraordinary pressure from his own police department in an absolutely extraordinary situation that is going on here.
The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, this is one of several police unions for the New York City Police Department. It's a very, very big police force. Their president, Pat Lynch, has come out with just withering, scathing attacks against Mayor de Blasio, saying that the blood is on his hands. They are upset over the way the mayor has handled the protest here over the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and then they have grown after Eric Garner.
The police there were not indicted in that, the death of that individual either. And those protests have grown angry and sometimes calling for the deaths of police as well at times. Those are the things that they have been most angry about. When the mayor then talked about his own son, the mayor has a mixed race family. When he talked about his own son Dante and the fact that he talked to his own son how he should handle the police, that infuriated the police even more.
It's just gotten to a very bad place here with the rhetoric, unbelievable, given the death of two officers like this has occurred -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The mayor, as you know, he and the police had a tense relationship since before even he took office. How did that tense relationship begin?
MARQUEZ: Indeed. This was -- the stop and frisk issue was a cornerstone of Mayor de Blasio's campaign. He said he wanted to end it, that it amounted to racial profiling in this city.
At its height in 2011, some 700,000 New Yorkers were stopped and frisked under this policy. And 84 percent of them were black and Latino, so this was something de Blasio wanted to end -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Stand by. I want to get to you.
But I want to bring in Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. He's a Democrat of New York. He actually represents the area in Brooklyn where these two police officers were gunned down, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
Congressman, what is it like in your district right now? It must be awful over there.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: We certainly are a wounded city right now, although we remain a resilient city.
This was a tragedy for the Bedford-Stuyvesant community that I represent, a tragedy for the city, a tragedy for the country, tragedy for the police department. But, most importantly, Wolf, it's a tragedy for the family of officer Ramos and officer Liu.
And so our first order of business is just making sure that these two heroes are buried with dignity and respect that they deserve, that they are given a hero's send-off. And then we are going to have to come together as a city to repair the damaged relationship between the police and the community, so that we can make sure that there's an appropriate balance between effective law enforcement.
We support the police department, we need the police department, but we also want to make sure that there's a healthy respect for the Constitution and for the civil rights of all communities.
BLITZER: As you know, the police officers, the police union, they are really angry at a lot of the statements politicians have made, not only the mayor, but the attorney general, even the president, presumably you as well, for the aftermath of Ferguson and the aftermath Staten Island, where there seemed to be statements very critical of law enforcement.
Let me play a little clip. Here's clip of an interview you did with our Christiane Amanpour. I want to give you an opportunity to give me some context of what you were saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFRIES: And I was really struggling as a father as to what to say to my oldest son in particular about what this verdict or failure to indict means in terms of his everyday interactions on the streets of New York. I was actually comforted by the fact that I called and he got home safely.
And I have got to worry every day about what could happen to him, not just from the robbers, but from a bad apple on the police department.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, it's that kind of statement, bad apple among the police department, that police officers are saying -- and it's fair or unfair -- that could have inspired some of these kinds of anti-police rhetoric and actions we saw with this one guy who killed these two police officers.
JEFFRIES: Well, first of all, this was a deranged individual, a coward who engaged in this assassination of these two officers, someone who had a dramatic criminal record in two states.
There's no way that this individual should have had a gun. One of the public policy implications of this tragedy is figuring out how we can deal with our gun violence problem in America. And I don't think that any criticism of the police department in terms of the few officers that engage in the excessive use of force should be conflated with this tragedy.
These officers did not deserve to die. But Eric Garner did not deserve to die. And clearly there's an issue in terms of equal protection under the law for everyone, which is contained in the Constitution and we want to make sure that that provision is brought to light.
Everybody on both sides of the debate, Wolf, are going to have to conduct themselves in a responsible fashion moving forward. And where there's been heated rhetoric on either side of this issue, I think, as the mayor has urged, everyone needs to restrain themselves, particularly during this period of mourning before these two hero officers are buried.
BLITZER: After the period of mourning, would you support some sort of demonstrations, rally among your supporters in support of the police in New York City?
JEFFRIES: Well, in fact, I think on Sunday, there are already plans under way that I support and plan to be involved in of several religious leaders coming together with police officers who regularly protect and serve our communities, as well as activists and individuals concerned about instances of excessive use of police force, together, to begin to heal a wounded city.
And certainly those are efforts that not only I support, Wolf, but will be actively involved in moving forward.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Congressman. We have more to discuss. I want to take a quick break. We at discuss what I have never seen before and a lot of other people have never seen before. A sitting mayor goes through a line where police officers are standing and they turn their backs on the mayor of New York City, refuse to even look him in the face.
Much more with Hakeem Jeffries, the congressman from Brooklyn whose district saw this tragedy over this weekend.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. He represents the Brooklyn area where these two police officers in New York were gunned down in their squad -- over the weekend.
The attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, is now publicly calling their deaths an assassination.
Congressman, do you agree with the attorney general, this was an assassination?
It was a cold-blooded assassination by a deranged individual who should not have been on our streets, should not have had access to a gun. It's a terrible, terrible tragedy. Wolf, these two officers are exactly the type of individuals that we want on our police force.
Officer Ramos was raised in Brooklyn, was raising a family himself in Brooklyn, and, of course, patrolling and protecting the streets of Brooklyn. Officer Liu not only patrolled the streets of Brooklyn, but also lived in Brooklyn and was preparing to start a family in Brooklyn. He had just gotten married two months ago.
BLITZER: It's so sad that this happened just before Christmas. It would have been sad any time, but especially now. Our deepest, deepest condolences to their families.
Congressman, do you remember a time ever, I don't remember it, but maybe you do, when police officers turned their backs on a sitting mayor as we saw in New York City this weekend?
JEFFRIES: Well, it was very surprising to see, and I think quite unfortunate.
As people on both sides of the political divide have indicated, I believe Mayor Rudolph Giuliani suggested that this was inappropriate to occur. I understand that emotions are running high, but as the family of officer Ramos said yesterday, we need to figure out a way to come together to get through this pain together.
And Bill de Blasio is the mayor, will be the mayor for the next three years. And he's elected to lead us all through this traumatic moment. We're going to have to bring together rank-and-file officers, though, Wolf, in terms of a real dialogue with communities of color in particular in the city of New York to have an honest, frank discussion about how we can move forward together.
BLITZER: Has the mayor done enough, in your opinion, to support and protect NYPD officers?
JEFFRIES: I think the mayor has consistently articulated strong support for the NYPD and the job that the police department has done.
Under this mayor, crime is at an all-time low as of the end of this year. And so the police department continues to do its job and be extremely effective. But we, of course, have got to figure out a way to get through these most recent traumas that have arisen over the last few weeks.
BLITZER: How worried are you, Congressman, about copycats out there who -- some deranged individuals who can get access to a weapon, and they feel it's a good moment right now to go out and kill a cop?
JEFFRIES: That's always a concern.
We have to denounce that type of activity in the strongest possible terms, make sure that everyone is vigilant, not just our police departments, which have taken extra precautions all across the country, but to make sure that every single American is paying close attention, monitoring their social media, identifying any possibilities as to individuals who may try to duplicate this heinous criminal activity.
But, Wolf, we also have to deal with the violence problem that we have in America related to guns. We have got 5 percent of the world's population, but 50 percent of the world's guns. More than 275 million guns are in this country.
And since the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, more than 24,000 additional Americans have been killed as a result of gun violence. You know, if this doesn't serve as a wakeup call for us to collectively do something about this problem in terms of this cop killer having access to a weapon all too easily, despite his aggressive criminal record, I'm not sure what will wake the country up.
BLITZER: Hakeem Jeffries is the Democratic congressman from Brooklyn.
Congressman, our deepest condolences to you and to everyone in your constituency, in your district over there. How sad to lose these two police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
Thanks very much for joining us.
JEFFRIES: Thanks so much, Wolf. BLITZER: Let's bring in our panel right now.
Joining us, the community activist John Gaskin, our CNN anchor Don Lemon, our CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes and our CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Guys, thanks very much for joining us.
Jeffrey, this is an awful situation. You live in New York. You know the mood over there. Do you remember a time when there this was bad a relationship between a sitting mayor and cops on the street?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Going back to John Lindsay. John Lindsay had a very bad relationship with the police department. But that was a long time ago. That was the '60s.
I have to say, I think the union leadership of the New York City cops has been totally disgraceful. The kind of language they're using, saying the blood is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio, is ridiculous. There is nothing that Mayor de Blasio said that inspired this evil man who killed his girlfriend or shot his girlfriend earlier in the day, this psychotic, to kill these two brave police officers.
I think the union officials have done nothing but poison the relationship in the city, and I don't think you can blame Mayor de Blasio for that.
BLITZER: All right, go ahead. Don Lemon, go ahead and react to what we just heard from Jeffrey.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you know, listen, I think at this point, I think the congressman was exactly right. Everyone should be very careful of their words and we have to ratchet things down, instead of up. I can understand that the police department is upset.
They just lost two of their very finest and in a situation that obviously did not have to happen by a deranged man. Yes, they're upset, but everyone should choose their words. The mayor is being criticized for his words. The police department is being criticized for their words now, rightfully so. They both are. And I think we just have to be very careful at this point.
So I'm going to moderate my words and be careful of my words, maybe some things I would like to say, because I would like to ratchet the situation down, instead of up.
BLITZER: Yes. We all would because this is an awful situation.
Tom Fuentes, you used to work at the FBI, and they're worried out there, not only the FBI, but local and state law enforcement. There may be deranged, sick, psychotic people out there who think, you know what? They heard those chants, tiny numbers in New York City, they heard those chants, what do you want? Dead cops. When do you want it? What do you want? Dead cops. They heard that, and they may be inspired, if you will, to go ahead and kill a cop.
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. And I don't condone what the union leader said. I thought that was over the top also. So, I agree with everyone on that point.
But it's more than just the words that have escalated that have caused the police to be angry. I think the other issue for them that they have talked about a lot is since the protests began after the Garner grand jury decision, the protest in New York, the protests have turned increasingly ominous for the police.
There's been a gradual ratcheting up of violence. We saw that last week with the punch in the face of the one officer and the two officers that were kicked and clubbed and beaten and had to go to the emergency room. So I think what the police are asking for is, what about us? We have to stand out here and are we automatically now punching bags and that's OK?
BLITZER: John Gaskin, in the aftermath of Ferguson and the in the aftermath of the chokehold in Staten Island, there's been a new movement out there, but the deaths of these two police officers, is that going to change what you and so many others have been trying to create?
JOHN GASKIN, NAACP BOARD MEMBER: I think we should certainly be very careful with the words we're saying as we're out marching and as we're out protesting. We certainly don't want to undermine justice, and we certainly don't want to promote any type of behavior that could turn violent and that could cause what we just saw this weekend.
I think the gentleman that killed those officers is certainly an outlier for this particular situation. It appears he had some mental issues there. But I think what we also have to look at is the family of Michael Brown and the family of Eric Garner put out statements early on encouraging protests to remain peaceful and encouraging people to not take matters into their own hands, to remember that police officers are people just like we are. And not only do black lives matter, but all lives matter. No life is more valuable than the other.
BLITZER: All right, Tom, you want to react to that?
FUENTES: Yes, to agree, when I heard the family's statements about let's not have violence, it really reminded me back when Rodney King, following his beating, said, can we all just get along?
It kind of, you know, hearkening out for let's ratchet down the rhetoric and let's try to find a way to get along with each other.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, there's a CNN/ORC new poll out there. Half the whites polled said they thought the U.S. criminal justice system treated whites and black equally, while only 21 percent of nonwhites thought that to be the case. Are you surprised at all by this finding? TOOBIN: Not at all. This is the life we live in the United States.
People -- and that's really why the Garner and Brown cases have struck such a responsive chord among so many people, that the experience of black people and white people with the police is very different in this country. It is not anti-police to say that. It is simply factual to say that.
Raising these issues is not something that should get people criticized. And it is certainly not incitement to murder to simply raise these issues. The only murderer in this is a lunatic who had nothing to do with the protesters. He is an evil, deranged man, and to associate him with the protesters is to really demean a reasonable cause.
BLITZER: You're going to have an extraordinary hour, Don, later tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on "CNN TONIGHT." Give us a preview.
LEMON: Wolf, it's going to be very emotional, especially at the beginning of the show, because we're going to have four of the rescue workers who tried to save these two officers.
When my producer spoke to them earlier, they said to them if we could still be working on those officers right now, we would be working on them. If you read the accounts of what happened, they said, I kept looking into the officer's eyes and all I wanted him to do was blink. I kept saying, come on, officer Ramos, don't go any -- stay with me, stay with me.
It's very emotional that these volunteer rescue workers had to go in, some of whom had come off of a call, an unsuccessful cardiac arrest call and then they're going out to have to save other people.
If I could just put one more thing in there, Wolf, listen, I think everyone understands you can criticize police and not be anti-police. But I have lived in New York City off and on since 1990. I have never seen anyone brazen enough to punch a police officer in the face while they know cameras are rolling under any administration, from Dinkins to Giuliani to, what's his name before, Bloomberg, before, and then Bill de Blasio.
But for people to be out on the street now, openly punching police officers, I think people should be out protesting, they have every right. But we need to check ourselves, because you should never punch a police officer or harm a police officer.
BLITZER: Yes. And you should never issue some of those threats that they were chanting, a small number, a tiny number of the tens of thousands of demonstrators and what they scrawled on the sidewalk outside of NYPD headquarters, NYPD KKK, that has no place, no place at all in our society.
Don, we will see you at 10:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight. John Gaskin, thanks very much. Tom Fuentes, Jeffrey Toobin, appreciate it.
Just ahead, there's another breaking story we're watching. Have the tables been turned on Kim Jong-un? North Korea has now suffered a major enter set disruption in the aftermath of its cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.
And a CNN exclusive coming up as well with the first Westerner allowed to report from inside ISIS territory. Why was he allowed to leave alive?
BLITZER: Cyber experts now say North Korea's Internet service has suffered a major disruption. Could it be some kind of payback for the cyberattack on Sony Pictures? This as North Korea makes new and brazen threats to attack the United States.
Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. She has the latest information. What are you learning?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, cyber experts say it very well could be an attack on North Korea's Internet systems.
Tonight, U.S. officials are being very tightlipped about what happened. But they say they are preparing a response to the Sony hacking, as the war of words with North Korea escalates.
LABOTT (voice-over): Kim Jong-un mobbed by adoring North Korean workers. The image of a confident and beloved leader lashing out at the U.S., whom he says is responsible for the film portraying his assassination.
While denying involvement in the Sony hacking, North Korea warned it was, quote, "sharpening bayonets to do damage thousands of times greater," threatening counteraction against the White House, Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland.
MARIE HARF, DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON, STATE DEPARTMENT: They have a long history of denying responsibility for destructive and provocative action, and if they want to help here, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages that they caused.
LABOTT: Today in New York as the U.N. Security Council took up North Korea's bleak human rights record, the U.S. ambassador said Pyongyang is now threatening the rights of the rest of the world.
SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: It is exactly the kind of behavior we have come to expect from a regime who threatened to take, quote, "merciless countermeasures," unquote, against the U.S. over a Hollywood comedy and has no qualms about holding tens of thousands of people in harrowing gulags.
LABOTT: In an exclusive interview with CNN, the president stopped short of labeling it an act of terrorism or war.
OBAMA: I don't think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The president does not understand, when you destroy economies, when you are able to impose censorship on the world, and especially the United States of America, it's more than vandalism.
LABOTT: Administration officials say the White House is considering sanctions against North Korean officials, banks and companies and wants China to reign in North Korea's ability to launch further attacks.
Today, Beijing condemned the attack but said there is no proof North Korea was behind it.
JOE WIT, EDITOR, 38 NORTH: Really tough financial sanctions are going to have an effect on China too, not just North Korea. A lot of these institutions are in China, and the danger there is that it might trigger some sort of trade war with China. Some economic retaliation by them.
LABOTT: And today, a new poll found nearly half of Americans believed Sony Pictures made the wrong decision to cancel the release of the film "The Interview," agreeing with President Obama, who also told CNN this could set a precedent for other dictators around the world to follow in. He thought it was a mistake.
Today, Sony executives say they have not pulled the film entirely, and they're exploring ways, Wolf, to release the film, perhaps on the Internet.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see what they do. Thanks very much, Elise, for that report.
Let's bring in our national security analyst, Bob Baer, and our CNN political commentator, Peter Beinart.
Bob, what's the most likely response to North Korea?
BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the North Koreans are going to come back at us. You know, the Pentagon's taking defensive measures, and I think that they'll defend themselves, but it's American businesses that can't. They haven't spent enough money on cyber security. The North Koreans can hit us when they want, and there's not much we can do to them. You know, they've got a thousand servers. It's just not much. And the embargo is already very tight.
And if the Chinese aren't going to step up, our response is very, very limited at this point.
BLITZER: Well, when the president, Bob, says there will be a proportional response, what does that say to you?
BAER: I think it's an attack on their computers, but that's proportional. You know, for me it's a life response. But that's not going to be enough.
Remember, the North Koreans took an enormous risk in attacking Sony like this. They knew there would be a response, and they still did it. At the end of the day, this is an irrational regime, and no one in this country can tell you what they're going to do next.
BLITZER: What kind of response, Peter, do you anticipate?
PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Bob makes sense. I think it's probably likely there will be some kind of response, unless maybe, behind closed doors, the Chinese are pressuring them very strongly not to.
I think the United States has always had trouble responding to North Korea's provocations, whether it was to do with its nuclear program or ballistic missile tests, because it's a country that's already so isolated from the world. You can't isolate it all that more.
I think the United States needs a long-term strategy of political -- not military, but political -- regime change, which has to do with trying to find a way of changing the incentive structure for Beijing, which is the one country that could bring down the North Korean regime if it wanted to.
BLITZER: Are these aggressive actions, Peter, the rhetoric that we're hearing from North Korea, just Kim Jong-un's way of trying to stay relevant internationally?
BEINART: Sure. I also think you have a regime that has built whatever legitimacy it has amongst its own people, based on the idea that it remains at war with the United States and it has to protect its people against a very hostile enemy. It's certainly not a regime that gained legitimacy because he's able to provide a decent standard of living with people.
So I think you see regimes like this tend to often need these kind of confrontations for domestic legitimacy. Yet, I think the question for the United States is, what could be a long-term strategy of regime change in which you could convince the Chinese that the downside of the chaos of this regime falling and their fear of north -- U.S. troops on their border, which I think is a very significant Chinese fear, how could we begin to mitigate that such that we can change the Chinese calculation?
BLITZER: What's your reaction to the North Korean Internet, Bob, going down today?
BECKEL: You know, it's not going to do much. It's not going to make any difference. For all we know, they did it preemptively. The Chinese could have done it. It's not going to affect them at all.
You know, did the U.S. cyber command take it down? It's possible. It's a covert action, and they certainly wouldn't announce it. And the fact that they haven't come out and flat-out denied it makes me wonder.
BLITZER: Bob Baer, thanks very much for that.
Peter Beinart, thanks to you, as well.
Just ahead, North Korea's idea of entertainment. It's a very, very serious business.
And why would ISIS terrorists allow a westerner in their midst and then let him leave? Exclusive interview coming up right here on CNN.
BLITZER: The massive cyberattack on Sony Pictures is being blamed on North Korea, and the apparent motive is anger over the now canceled movie comedy mocking the dictator Kim Jong-un. In North Korea, comedy is no laughing matter. In fact, it's a very risky business.
CNN's Kyung Lah takes a closer look.
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to primetime programming on North Korea's only television station. A cartoon explaining how to bomb the enemy. To traditional dance, praising the supreme leader. This is entertainment ala North Korean regime, the rare interlude in between the news bulletin about Kim Jong-un's godlike generosity and love of his people.
To the western world, all of this is strange. A little twisted, and certainly devoid of any humor.
(on camera): Would you have ever made fun of Kim Jong-un?
(voice-over): "I couldn't dare," says Kim Seon-Min. "That's a path to death."
Kim knows because the defector and now anti-North Korean radio host was once a comedy writer for five years with the North Korean military. Comedy in the DPRK, you ask? Well, sort of.
(on camera): As a comedy writer, is it very dangerous what you can make jokes about?
(voice-over): "Among writers," says Kim, "the ones sent to prison or executed most often are the comedy writers."
Go too far in a punch line, it's prison time, often for the entire family. Kim says the goal of public comedy in North Korea is not to laugh but another method to enhance loyalty to the regime.
It is little wonder North Korea fails to see the humor in this silly America movie. Satire just doesn't exist. Joking about the supreme leader and killing the character on the big screen is not metaphor but punishable by death.
Kim understands why the movie would push North Korea to launch a cyberattack. Something the regime denies doing. This former comedic writer is now in the unfunny business of reporting news from the outside world, sending it via proxies into North Korea. He doesn't joke as he reads about the global crisis surrounding "The Interview," because he wants his former homeland to understand the serious consequences of what began as a comedy.
Kyung Lah, CNN, Seoul.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a Westerner embedded with ISIS. What he learned about the terrorists and why they let him alive. You're about to see a CNN exclusive.
BLITZER: Right now, we have a CNN exclusive. The first Westerner granted extraordinary access to ISIS terrorists on their own turf.
The author Jurgen Todenhofer managed to get out alive to tell his story. He is with us to answer questions about how he got in, why he was allowed in, what he experienced.
But, first, this special report from CNN's Frederik Pleitgen on Todenhofer's rare and dangerous journey.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is an extremely rare glimpse into inner workings of the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world.
German author Jurgen Todenhofer managed to visit ISIS territory, both in Iraq and in Syria.
JURGEN TODENHOFER, AUTHOR: They are only 1 percent. It's a 1 percent movement in the Islamic world. But this 1 percent movement has the power of a nuclear tsunami. It's incredible. I was so amazed. I was -- I couldn't understand this, this enthusiasm.
PLEITGEN: Todenhofer spent several days in Mosul, Iraq's second biggest city conquered by ISIS in June. He even visited the mosque where ISIS head Abu Bakr al Baghdadi gave a speech earlier this year.
He also met with child soldiers.
TODENHOFER: How old are you?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY (through translator): I am 13.
PLEITGEN: Todenhofer even managed to get access to a Kurdish prisoner in the hands of the extremists.
TODENHOFER: What did they tell you what would happen to you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Our captor said we have Islamic State fighters in prison with the Kurdish regional government. You are prisoners here and we will trade you back for our fighters. They didn't say they would kill or slaughter.
PLEITGEN: Todenhofer says people living in ISIS-controlled areas are in fear of the harsh penalties for infringement of the stringent laws. But there is also a single of stability. According to Todenhofer, fighters say they often manage to defeat much larger armies like the Iraqi military because they're not afraid to die.
TODENHOFER: It took you how many days to conquer Mosul?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We didn't kill 24, but we killed a score of them. So, they got terrified and ran away.
We don't retreat. We only fight and God Almighty will be with us. Those who have reverted from Islam do not have a solid ideology so they ran away. They came to fight for the tyrant, fight for money.
PLEITGEN: During battle, he learned many of the ISIS fighters wear suicide vests, willing to blow themselves up rather than be captured. In one interview, a senior ISIS fighter warns the U.S. and Europe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We will conquer Europe. It's not a question of us wanting, we will. We'll kill 150 million, 250 million, 500 million. We don't care about the number.
PLEITGEN: Atrocities ISIS has already committed suggests they're serious about their threats. This German's author's visit to the Islamic State shows a brutal merciless the group but one that won't go away any time soon.
Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Munich, Germany.
BLITZER: And joining us now from Germany is Jurgen Todenhofer.
Mr. Todenhofer, thanks very much for joining us.
What a harrowing story. How did you get ISIS to allow you to go inside? Why did they trust you?
TODENHOFER: I don't know if they trusted me. But I had to find a way to go to this country because I was writing a book and after a certain time I found out that there was no valuable information. So, I wrote on 80 Facebook addresses of German jihadists and I got 18 answers. And out of 18 answers, I found two jihadists, and with one of them, he was from I.S. I had discussions during seven months.
And in these seven months, I not only discussed with him the problems of this terroristic organization, I also asked him if I could come to this country, and if they would give me a guarantee. And we negotiated this guarantee. At the end, I got a guarantee from the office of the caliphate. The only problem was that I didn't know if this guarantee was really given by the caliph. So, this was my risk. I had so many discussions with this German jihadist that after a certain time I believed and I trusted him. And I was right. They treated me not nice but correctly.
BLITZER: Because there were so many stories of journalists who had been not treated well. They have been beheaded, they have been arrested, they've been held, they've been released some of them, if countries or others paid ransom. You must have been scared that you might never get out of there.
TODENHOFER: Of course, I had many fights with my friends. But I listened to my (INAUDIBLE). And I have done this kind of thing several times, I met leaders of the Taliban. I have met al Qaeda people.
And I have one rule. When I write something, when I talk about something, I tried to talk to both sides. So, I met during the last year, I met several times Assad. I was criticized for that too. And I thought after five meetings with Assad, it was time to meet ISIS.
BLITZER: Now, they clearly controlled where you could go. Did you have any opportunity to see the slaughter that's going on there? We've seen the videos. We've seen them as well, not only the beheadings but the mass graves and the killings that have gone on. I assume they restricted where you could go.
TODENHOFER: No. There was not really a restriction. I wanted to go to Mosul, and at the beginning they wanted me to go to Raqqa. And when I arrived, they said, yes, you can now go to Mosul and I went to Mosul and I had certain requests. I want to see certain people. I wanted to see arrested Kurdish fighters and I saw them.
But there was a censorship. They controlled all the photos that my son has taken. Out of 800 photos, they deleted nine for security reasons.
BLITZER: Can you tell us what those nine pictures showed?
TODENHOFER: It showed young foreign fighters. And they didn't want that the families could have problems in Europe and the United States. And I met also many American fighters, not only from Arab origin or from Pakistan. I met a guy from New Jersey.
So, it's an incredible movement. And it was for me very difficult to understand this enthusiasm of these young fighters. This is something I've never seen in war zones and I have been in many war zones.
I've never seen such an enthusiastic movement like I.S. and there is other thing. I think we underestimate this terroristic movement. They are much stronger than we think. They have now conquered a territory with the area which has the area of Great Britain. It's even bigger than U.K. It's really huge.
BLITZER: You got out alive. That's an amazing piece of work that you did. Jurgen Todenhofer, thanks very much for joining us. I assume we'll
continue our conversations down the road. We appreciate it very much.
And I'll be back later tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I'm filling in for Anderson Cooper, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
And don't forget, 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, Don Lemon will have a special interview with those four rescue workers who tried to save the NYPD police officers who were gunned down in their squad car. That's 10:00 p.m. Eastern, "CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon.
Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can watch us live, DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.