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Tensions Ease on Korean Peninsula; Interview With New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson

Aired December 20, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: Tensions ease on the Korean Peninsula following a military drill. And now there's a possible agreement with North Korea. CNN's Wolf Blitzer has an exclusive one-on-one interview with a man behind the deal.

Also, the same high-tech tools used to hunt terrorists and criminals are now being used by local police, who could be spying on you.

Plus, the crackdown on cargo shipment yields surprising discoveries that no one expected.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer joins us this hour with details of his exclusive assignment in North Korea.

I'm Candy Crowley. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The fear of war in the Korean Peninsula, where the U.S. has 28,000 troops, has ratcheted down several notches. North Korea blinked after the South conducted a military drill today using live ammunition, a move that North Korea had said might prompt military retaliation.

The tension was the highest since 1953. Thousands of South Koreans were ordered into shelters ahead of the drill, but it ended after 90 minutes with no immediate reaction from the North and some diplomatic progress.

The country now says it agrees to allow United Nations monitors access to its uranium enrichment facility, and it's willing to consider taking part in a military commission aimed at preventing future conflicts.

That surprising reaction may be due to the presence of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He just left North Korea, along with our own Wolf Blitzer, after a four-day visit at the invitation of the North Korean government.

We are going to get more on the drill in just a moment, but first to the North Korean capital, where a little earlier, Wolf Blitzer gave us an update on his exclusive assignment. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Joining me now on the phone from Pyongyang, our Wolf Blitzer.

Wolf, as you know, North Korea has a reputation of walking right up to the line, talking a tough game, getting right there. You think you're on the brink of a crisis, and then it walks it back. How much of what has happened -- and North Korea certainly did walk back from what we thought would happen with these South Korean live-fire exercises -- how much of this is North Korea business as usual and how much of this is the work of one man?

I mean, how can you -- when you look at it, what happened here?

BLITZER: Well, those are great questions. And the answers will become obvious in the next several, you know, not just hours, but days, weeks and months and years, whether or not there is a real shift in the position of North Korea.

But there's no doubt that a lot of people are encouraged right now that the North Koreans did not respond militarily to the South Korean military exercises.

The governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, is with me, Candy.

Let me ask him if he feels that this potentially, potentially is a turning point, because he's been here many times over the years.

What do you think, Governor?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, potentially, I believe there's always a credibility problem with the North Koreans. But in my discussions with them, intensive discussions, after they did their propaganda and their points of view, there was more flexibility. Their tone was more positive, as if they realized they'd gone into the precipice with their very negative actions, like the shooting of the civilians and sinking of the ship, that maybe this was the time to stop that activity and reach out.

And I believe that was involved in the decision to not respond militarily. I pressed them not to. I said, here's a great opportunity for you. And then the discussions we had on allowing the IAEA monitors to come in on the purchase of the fuel rods.

So, maybe this is an opportunity, a chapter in which the six- party countries can reach out to North Korea and say, OK, you have got to stop this bad activity. Now you have shown a little statesmanlike activity. Now we're ready to talk. Let's talk. Let's get rid of your nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: Take us behind the scenes. You met with the vice president of North Korea, the vice minister for foreign affairs, the chief nuclear negotiator. You met with Major General Pak Rim Su, the chief of the North Korean army, at the DMZ. And you probably met with more North Korean officials than any other U.S. official. You're here as a private citizen.

Did they seem different in their attitude towards you now, as opposed to earlier occasions?

RICHARDSON: They seemed different.

Yes, they gave their speeches, why they are they are, and the -- Kim Il-Sung and the leadership here. But there was some flexibility. Their tone was different. They seemed to realize that they had maybe gone too far, and now was a time to reach out.

We got every meeting that we wanted. The proposals that I made were dealt with favorably on the IAEA, on the fuel rods, on the -- the military commission to monitor some of the activities on the West Sea. So I noticed a better tone, flexibility. I noticed them wanting to reach back.

BLITZER: What did they say about President Obama, the Obama administration?

RICHARDSON: Well, you know, of course, they have got some concerns.

But there were several comments about how they like the president personally, that he -- he was somebody that was symbolically for the United States a great image. But they're somehow right now at a point where they feel that they have been isolated, not just by the United States, but by the six-party countries, rightly so, I believe, because of their activities, what they did.

But, somehow, I believe they have made a decision to open up, to reengage. Now, the devil's in the details. They have got to show deeds and not just words. But I think their action of not responding militarily, of reaching out on some of these issues that are so important to South Korea, to the United States, gives us an opportunity.

You know, the U.S. stood with South Korea. Their policy was firm. The six-party countries have been participating, I think constructively, at the U.N. Security Council, urging restraint. Maybe now is the time for the six-party countries to reach out to North Korea and say, OK, let's get down to business, be credible, be serious, no games anymore, and let's negotiate the end of nuclear weapons on the peninsula.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much.

So, there you have it, Candy. We're getting ready to get out of Pyongyang, heading backs towards Beijing. But this has obviously been five, six days, a eye-opening experience, not only for the governor and his small team, but for me as well, reporting on what's going on.

And there's no doubt there's a moment, there's an opportunity right now. We will see if it's just a moment or if it lasts a little bit longer -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Wolf Blitzer, we look forward to hearing more when you get back. Safe travels all around. Thanks.


CROWLEY: Back here in Washington, the State Department says it's eager to see North Korea live up to international obligations, but a spokesman is skeptical.


P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: North Korea talks a great game. They always do. The real issue is, what will they do?

If they are agreeable to returning IAEA inspectors to their country, they have to tell the IAEA that. The big if is "if implemented." We have seen a string of broken promises by North Korea going back many, many years. We have -- as we have said all along, we will be guided by what North Korea does, not by what North Korea says it might do under certain circumstances.


CROWLEY: The American public is skeptical as well. In a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, more than 80 percent of those asked see North Korea as posing some kind of threat to the U.S. -- 28 percent see an immediate threat -- 56 percent say North Korea poses a long-term threat to the U.S. And 16 percent say the country poses no threat.

We want to get some more on the South Korean military drill that sparked this latest crisis.

CNN's Tom Foreman and CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr are here with the details.

Tom, tell us exactly what South Korea did.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what South Korea did was a drill right on the line of what makes North Korea nervous. But what's interesting is what we did here.

Barbara, tell us about the degree to which all of our top military people were watching this thing.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tom, what we have exclusively learned is, overnight last night, it was a lot more tense than anybody really wanted to talk about publicly.

Let's start back in Washington at the Pentagon, the National Military Command Center, deep inside the Pentagon. What we have learned here is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his top aides on intelligence and operations, the vice chairman, a number of top officials spent the night essentially in the Pentagon monitoring the crisis 14 hours ahead in Korea.

They were in constant contact with the U.S. Pacific Command here in Hawaii, and then moving around the world, 14 hours ahead, with U.S. forces in Korea and the South Korean government. So, as the exercise was going on, all of these officials back in Washington up all night, sleeping in their offices, sleeping under their desks, monitoring it minute by minute.

And why were they? Because, in case the North Korea Koreans didn't back down, they had to be ready to tell President Obama what was going on.

FOREMAN: Let's talk about the lay of the field out here. We won't call it a battlefield, because it wasn't a battle, but it is a very tense area down here.

This is South Korea down here, North Korea up here. This red line marks the international boundary between them. And out here in the western waters is where North Korea gets very concerned about things. You may remember, back in March, the ship that was sunk over here, largely believed to be the actions of the North Koreans doing that.

You may remember, if we fly in here to this island just on this side of that international boundary, about six to eight miles from the North Korean mainland, there were those attacks that happened not long ago at all there.

And now look at where these drills took place, because this is why this was so tense. If we fly in to look at the actual shelling, this is the island, and this is the area where these shells were dropping. There's the border. Talk to me a little bit about this...


STARR: Here it is, all laid out.

Now, the South Koreans had every legal right to conduct these exercises, according to the United States. And, indeed, they were firing out into the water away from North Korea, but...

FOREMAN: Well, aimed at North Korea, but sort of parallel to the coast.

STARR: Absolutely.

But here's the challenge. Here's the military problem. All of this is so close together, what, seven miles off the coast of North Korea. So, if, heaven forbid, something had gotten started here, the question was one of escalation, an escalation out of control, starting something that nobody could stop. That was the worry.

FOREMAN: We know that Seoul is right down here. We know that Pyongyang is right up here. We know that airplanes were put into the air here just in case. We know that satellites were monitoring just in case there was any action from North Korea. There wasn't.

And, as you mentioned, Candy, a bit of a step-down since last night, as Wolf reported. CROWLEY: Tom Foreman and Barbara Starr, thanks so much.

And a final note on North Korea: Wolf is blogging about his trip and it's full of anecdotes about life inside North Korea, including a story about karaoke and Wolf. Not kidding. You can check it out right now on

They are high-tech anti-terror tools now being used by some local police departments. But they're not being used just on criminals -- details of the growing controversy over your privacy.

Plus, the winter wonder in the sky, details of a spectacular sight tonight, as the solstice arrives.



CROWLEY: Military technology now used by local police to keep an eye on you, we will show it to you.

Plus, one stocking stuffer may not make it this year. Cigar fans will cringe at what will happen to thousands of contraband Cuban cigars.


CROWLEY: New technology is giving law enforcement new tools to fight crime and terrorism. But there are critics who say it's coming at the expense of your privacy and that there's a troubling potential for abuse.

CNN's Brian Todd is looking into it for us.

Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, we're learning that more of us are being surveilled than ever before and that our local police are now able to get that information and process it at unprecedented speed.


TODD (voice-over): On the streets of Memphis, a futuristic crime-fighting tool, squad cars equipped with license plate recognition cameras. Turning on swivels, they scan plates, the images processed on laptops inside the police cars and in what's called a real-time crime center.

In seconds, a display on his dashboard screen tells an officer if the car has been stolen, if there are warrants connected to it, maybe if the driver is a convicted felon. Surveillance cameras with real- time transmission back to the crime center are popping up all over Memphis.

This Memphis Police Department video proudly promotes these new tools and they're credited with a drastic crime drop in Memphis in recent years. Some of the money for this whizbang comes from the Department of Homeland Security.

DANA PRIEST, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": DHS has helped them with the funding, in the hopes that someday they will be using this also to, again, look for, you know, possible terrorism.

TODD: Dana Priest co-work a lengthy investigative story for "The Washington Post" on new high-tech tools and data-sharing used by Homeland Security and law enforcement.

According to the article, more information is being collected on many of us and shared among more law enforcement agencies than ever before. It's part of an often-heard post-9/11 mantra to catch potential terrorists.

PRIEST: To help the federal government find the dots, to find people who might be acting suspiciously.

TODD: The information goes to so-called fusion centers run by state and local law enforcement. That's where data on suspicious behavior is shared with DHS, the FBI and other agencies.

With an uptick in terror plots in recent years, a DHS official says this system has led to more arrests. But privacy advocates say it also carries huge potential for abuse.

Former FBI agent Michael German, now with the American Civil Liberties Union, says it empowers police to intervene more deeply into people's private lives.

MICHAEL GERMAN, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: The behaviors they have described as inherently suspicious include things like taking notes, drawing diagrams, taking measurements, taking photographs or video, which are ubiquitous activities that all of us do.

TODD (on camera): But terrorists also do that, right?

GERMAN: I'm sure they do, but terrorists also put shoes on. But that doesn't mean that somehow tracking every person who puts shoes on or every person who takes notes or every person who takes photographs is somehow a useful practice.


TODD: Michael German says previous investigations have found that, in some cases, law enforcement officials used technology and shared information to look at the private information of celebrities.

Contacted by CNN, officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security said they have strong programs in place to combat potential abuse and that unnecessary information is not added to any of these databases or kept in them -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Brian, is there any policy in place that would teach agents about protecting privacy?

TODD: Well, both agencies say they not only train their agents on those protections, but they're very clear on punishments that they will incur of those protections are broken. And they do privacy impact assessments when they first get some of this information to make sure that it doesn't infringe on someone's privacy. If it's unnecessary or it does so unnecessarily, it won't go into those databases.

CROWLEY: Brian Todd, thanks so much for that.

We want to talk a little more about this story with CNN national security correspondent Fran Townsend. She was homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush and is a member of the Homeland Security External Advisory Board.

Fran, every time another of these stories come out about, OK, now they can do this and they can do that, and not only can they, they are doing it, I have to ask, do you ever fear that we have gone too far?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, Candy, I mean, the really important thing -- yes, you worry about going too far, but the most important thing is how much of this information are they retaining? And of what they're retaining, what are they doing with it? How long do they hold it? How do they protect it? All the questions that Brian -- you talked to Brian about.

You know, they scan license plates. They don't keep all that data. They couldn't possibly. And so what I think is important, President Obama recently made two appointments to the president's privacy and civil liberties board. That's the sort of thing that I think that the privacy community and everyday Americans want to be sure that there's somebody looking at these programs answering the questions we're asking.

Is it necessary? Is there oversight? And is there training?

CROWLEY: Somehow, it occurs to me that this gets down to the individuals who are using the systems, the agents, the people that are looking at the information as it comes in.

It's the same thing with the TSA. We are asked to trust that the people who are doing this are not keeping it because, you know, they think it's interesting or, you know, for any reason whatsoever. And that's a pretty big leap of faith, given what technology now allows the federal government and the local governments to do.

TOWNSEND: Candy, I agree with you completely. And while Brian talked about there are training programs at the federal level, the sorts of things I'm familiar with, you know, resources are tighter at the state and local level.

And so I have always worried about, is there the same sort of training on privacy protections at the state and local level? Look, I think that this is an area that people ought to rightly be concerned about. But I think the government can do a whole lot by being transparent about what its rules and procedures are, and having outsiders on a bipartisan basis look at these programs, be able to talk to the American people and have congressional oversight.

You know, why aren't the committees asking these questions in public?

CROWLEY: Let me turn you just quickly to -- there have been some arrests in London, alleged terrorist plot going on. All we have heard for the last two weeks, about increased chatter, there's increased chatter.

Can you please explain to the American people and to me what exactly that means and how worried we should be about increased chatter about terrorist plots?

TOWNSEND: You know, Candy, it's funny, because this increased chatter, as you know, often happens around the holidays. And we don't pay much attention to it. I mean, we have got to -- you have always got to watch...


CROWLEY: Because wouldn't they know it would freak us out just to have increased chatter?

TOWNSEND: Yes. But let me tell you why I think this year is a little different.

Going back to late spring, early summer, American officials started talking about the threat coming in from Europe. We saw actions taken by German authorities, French authorities, around the world and the Saudis and the Yemenis. We have seen an increase in activity.

I don't think it's just chatter this year. It seems to be based on intelligence, which is more concerning. That said, it looks like across the board with our allies, all these intelligence and law enforcement communities are taking additional steps and are on a much higher alert than they were last year, when we saw the Christmas Day attempt.

CROWLEY: And that's good news.

National security contributor Fran Townsend, thank you so much.


CROWLEY: You win a few, you lose a few. It is what politics is all about.

The White House has some wins and some losses. We will look at how the administration grades itself on its first two years.

And New York's governor gets the tab for what turned out to be a very expensive trip to the World Series. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The current lame-duck session of Congress hasn't been entirely lame for President Obama. It's seen passage of some of the top items on his agenda, including the tax cut compromise, which also extended unemployment benefits.

Add to that the repeal of don't ask, don't tell and a food safety bill upgrading the inspections process for the first time in 70 years. The fate of the START treaty with Russia is still unknown. Senators were discussing it behind closed doors today.

Other presidential priorities went down in defeat, including the so-called DREAM Act for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and the spending bill that would have funded the government for the next fiscal year. Republicans objected to billions of dollars in earmarks, including their own. Lawmakers will consider a short- term spending plan instead.

Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian.

Dan, what's been the White House reaction to this December of activity?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was talking to one top aide who told me that they feel pretty good about what they have been able to accomplish here.

But you might remember, you know, just a few weeks ago, there were some who felt that the president's ambitious agenda was really not possible, even though here at the White House, senior aides were very optimistic that they could get a lot of this done.

What you saw from the president is, you know, he rolled up his sleeves, made a lot of phone calls. You saw him involved deep in negotiations with Republicans to get that tax cut deal. And then on START over the weekend, both the president and the vice president also making calls. They continue to make those calls. Also today, reaching out not only to Republicans but also to Democrats.

On the down side, though, as you pointed out, the omnibus bill, spending bill went down in defeat. Also, the DREAM Act, which the president expressed -- expressed, rather, his disappointment, saying that he felt that this was not only good for the young people but also good for the U.S. economy and also for the military.

But the bottom line here at the White House is they continue to focus on those things that they have been able to get done. And White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that the lesson from all of this is that compromise is possible.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Whether it's the tax agreement, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and what I believe will be passage and ratification of START, I think you'll see strong bipartisan majorities in support of issues that are important to the American people.


LOTHIAN: And so what the president is able to do is end the year with some big accomplishments, but he faces some challenges next year, as you have the House with the leadership there changing, Republicans in the lead, already expressing the fact that they will be challenging some of this agenda. So no doubt some potential hurdles there for the president in the new year -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Dan, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is nonetheless something that is going to please the base, the liberal side of the president's party. When does that get signed into law?

LOTHIAN: Right. We're told that that's likely to be done on Wednesday morning here at the White House. And then, of course, we're also getting indications that the president could have a year-end news conference before he hops on Air Force One and heads out to Hawaii where, as you know, his family is already there. And he's anxious to begin his vacation.

CROWLEY: Something I can understand.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Dan. Appreciate it.

We want to get some more with CNN's senior political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN chief national correspondent, John King, host of "JOHN KING USA," which begins at the top of the hour.

Let's just talk about the president's December. It seems like a December to remember to me. But let me just, you know, posit this one thing. And that is they almost had to get a deal on the tax cut extensions. Because nobody wanted to walk away going, "Yes, I let your paycheck get smaller."

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I think that's exactly right. And the president wanted something to send a message to the country that, at least in the short-term, the post-election message would be, we'll be grown-ups; we'll get something done. You may not love it all, but Washington will actually sit down and get something done.

Now, as you know, the liberals in his party are furious at him. Some conservatives don't like the tax deal. That puts the president where he wants to be right now: in the middle. We'll see how it plays out next year. Big challenge is spending cuts. But right now he's in the middle, and they like that.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It took him a lot less time to pivot than I actually thought. I thought, OK, we'll have to wait until the State of the Union, see what he says in the State of the Union. You know, and then right after...


CROWLEY: ... didn't have the time. I guess that's what -- January 1, somebody was going to be left holding the bag.

BORGER: That's right. So that was his response to the liberals. What would you like me to do? Would you like me to let people's taxes go up so that the Republicans, by the way, can get credit for reducing their taxes when the new Congress comes back? I don't think so.

KING: That was the great irony. The Bush tax cuts, the rallying cry of the left, including Barack Obama for so many years, was his friend, if you will, because of the expiration date. It forced him to do this.

CROWLEY: Let's sort of assume that politicians do do a lot of what they do because they actually believe in it. We'll take that. But let me look at the politics of this. And the president may have done himself some good.

I want you to take a look at the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Overall, he's got about a 48 percent approval rating. Not great, but not horrible. But look at what's happened since November. Liberals, support went from, November, 79 percent, fell six points, 72 percent. Conservatives, it's a wash. Same thing.

But look at the moderates. He's picking up with moderates. So if you were looking at this from a purely -- purely political point of view, the moderates are who decide elections. This was a good move for him this December.

KING: It is a stepping stone toward a more stable political situation. He was ending the year in very rough shape. Can he sustain having liberals mad at him? Seven to 10 liberals liking him, that's pretty good overall. When it comes to actually turning out the vote, he doesn't have to worry about that until 2012. He's got some prepare work to do with his liberal base.

But if you want to be, if the Republicans just got from 40 to 60, because of the allegiance (ph) of independent voters, that's what President Obama has to worry about. How do you get the independent, the middle of the electorate, back? That's the first Band-Aid he has to fix. That's the first wound he has to heal. Then he'll worry about his base.

BORGER: Can I just say something about the liberals? I bet the vote -- the support will go up after he signs "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But when you have 72 percent support among any group, why are you worrying about them so much?

CROWLEY: Well, because even the other, the rest of them, it's not like you're going to run out and vote for Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin. I mean...

BORGER: Right. Exactly. So we hear all of this: "Oh, my God, the base, the base, the base."

KING: But -- but -- but this is important, though. After the census, when the seats move around, the electoral votes move around, the map is going to change in a way not to the president's liking. If the 2012 election were tomorrow, he would need that base. And he would need a higher than 70 percent approval rating.


CROWLEY: It isn't just about voting either. Right? It's about rah-rah, lick the envelopes, you know, getting out the vote.

BORGER: Getting out -- right, right. But as opposed to what? I mean, are they still going to support Barack Obama as opposed to, say, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, whoever it is, Haley Barbour? I would say he's doing pretty well with liberals and stop worrying so much.

CROWLEY: Assuming (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I think most of us thought he would.

We'll see you at the top of the hour.

KING: We'll be here.

CROWLEY: From New York.

KING: We'll explore more. Kristen Gillibrand is with us at the top of the hour. She is one of the senators saying, "Why? Why can't we pass this 9/11 responder bill? Why do Republicans say now we need -- need more hearings, we need more this; we need more that?"

Look, there's a -- you know, you've been through this before. I mean, your days on Capitol Hill and your day here. There's a little end-of-the-year tug of war going on. And she'll explain why this bill is important and more.

CROWLEY: "J.K. USA" starts at the top of the hour. Don't miss it. Gloria Borger, thank you so much, both of you.

Terror fears lead to a crackdown on cargo and a surprising discovery, thousands of cigars.

Plus, a terror sweep in Britain. A dozen men are arrested for learning the details.


CROWLEY: A dozen men have been arrested in terror raids Britain. Officials believe they were plotting an attack on British soil. CNN senior international correspondent Dan Rivers is in London with more -- Dan.

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, this has been described by the police as an intelligence-led operation, which means the security service MI-5 was leading this operation really for several weeks. They have been monitoring these men.

Finally today, the police went in and arrested these 12. Five picks up in Cardiff, three in Stoke, three in London. And another man, had been living in Stoke, was picked up in Birmingham. They're all fairly young, as well, aged between 17 and 28 years old. Now, we're working to try and confirm the nationalities of these men. There's been some conflict of information on that one there from Pakistan or from Bangladesh.

But we understand that they are now in three different police stations across the U.K., and police are working to identify them. They can hold them now for 28 days before they have to appear before a judge.

There's no information yet about the targets that these men were alleged to be looking at or the means that they were going to strike. Although we're being told by one security source this was not going to be a Mumbai-style attack on a shopping center or other target involved assault weapons. And there is no suggestion this has any links to Sweden or, indeed, the United States.

So for now, we wait while the police continue to sift through the evidence found at these various properties and wait to try to find out the nationalities of these men -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Dan Rivers out of London, thanks very much.

If the sky is clear tonight, you will miss something if you do not set your alarm. You have the opportunity to witness something that has not happened in nearly four centuries.

And Jackson Five original Jermaine says, "I was robbed." Wait until you find out how much. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


CROWLEY: In a matter of hours and if the sky is clear, this live look at the moon is going to look a lot different. People will be looking up to catch an unusual sight: a total eclipse of the moon. It's unusual, because this one comes during the winter solstice.

How does this happen and where's the best place to see it? CNN's meteorologist, Reynolds Wolf, joins me how to explain all of it.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Candy, believe it or not, you are in the best place to see it. Not necessarily in the studio but in Washington, D.C. or anywhere along the eastern seaboard, sky conditions should be favorable to be able to look outside and see the moon and right through the hours of 1 a.m. and about 5 a.m. Eastern Time, you should have a pretty good view of it, with the peak time being right around 3.

The idea of a lunar eclipse is not the thing that's so unusual. It's that it coincides with the winter solstice. The last time that happened was back in 1554. But lunar eclipses themselves are actually fairly common. We usually have about one or two a year. In 1982, we actually had about three of them. And every once and again, we'll have a year where we'll skip them altogether.

As I mentioned, the best time that we're going to see them is going to be between 1 and 5. We'll see this particular lunar eclipse. And the thing that's going to be really interesting about it is the color that we're going to be seeing. Because we have got the moon actually behind the sun, and it casts the earth's shadow on the moon itself, it filters out many of the colors, so to speak. Say the blue rays are actually going to be blacked out. But the reddish colors are going to make it to the moon, giving it kind of a reddish hue. It should be quite beautiful to see.

And I'll tell you, it's going to take a matter of hours. If you step outside for a little bit, and you see it beginning to change, fear not: it's going to be a process that will take quite a bit of time.

But I have to tell you, if you do miss out on this possibility, this episode of seeing a lunar eclipse in the winter solstice, fear not: you will have another opportunity. That other opportunity, though, Candy, is going to be in 2094. So you better be really healthy if you're going to make it that long -- Candy.

CROWLEY: So I either have to wait until 2094 or stay up between 1 and 5?

WOLF: About 1 and 5. If you just set the alarm around 3 a.m. I think if you step outside you're going to be just fine. Should be quite a show for you.

CROWLEY: OK. I think I'm going to do it, actually. Thanks so much, Reynolds Wolf.

WOLF: You bet.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it. At least one side thinks the long Alaska Senate race is coming to a close. Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What have you got?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wasn't the election in November?

CROWLEY: Yes. We're still working on it, though.

BOLDUAN: We're still working on it. Here we go. Republican contender Lisa Murkowski's campaign says the state of Alaska could certify her the winner in her Senate race in a matter of days. Murkowski ran as a write-in candidate after losing the GOP primary to Joe Miller. Miller is challenging her lead in the state supreme court. Murkowski hopes to be sworn in for another term in January.

And it is probably likely the most expensive ball game New York Governor David Paterson will ever go to. Today a state ethics panel fined Paterson about $62,000 for, quote, "soliciting, accepting and receiving five free tickets to last year's World Series." Oops! The commission says Paterson's claim that he intended to pay for the tickets was debunked by several sources, including none other than the Yankees, apparently. And the late Michael Jackson's older brother says he has been robbed. The "New York Post" reports that Jermaine Jackson filed a police report stating that someone told almost $200,000 in valuables from his California mansion. In his complaint, Jackson says a travel bag containing clothes, furs and jewels were taken in mid-September. So far, though, no clear leads or suspects.

And there's nothing like a comeback or a career peak, especially when you're 88, right? Actress Betty White has been named the Associated Press' entertainer of the year, beating out the cast of "Glee." White's popularity surged after she appeared in a candy bar commercial during the Super Bowl. A Facebook campaign, you won't forget, then got her on "Saturday Night Live," where ratings soared. White says, quote, "It's been a lovely year." Quite an understatement.

CROWLEY: I would say. More than a lovely year. That's great.

BOLDUAN: It sure is.

CROWLEY: Highly prized contraband is seized in Chicago. It's not drugs; it's not weapons. And its pending destruction may at least make one grown man cry.

And later, the comings and goings of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.


CROWLEY: Bad news for serious cigar aficionados. Illegal shipments of forbidden cigars are turning up by the thousands in Chicago and are being stopped dead in their tracks. CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has details.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, a lot of cigar lovers are not going to get their Christmas wish.

(voice-over) You are looking at contraband. Not drugs. Not weapons. Not terrorist bombs. But Cuban cigars, seized by Customs and Border Protection at Chicago's O'Hare airport. Jorge Leon saw the first package last month as he screened incoming international mail.

JORGE LEON, U.S. CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION: After that, they just kept on coming. Bags worth just kept on coming down the line, OK. And then before we knew it, they were all spread out throughout all the lines.

MESERVE: And they kept coming. For weeks.

(on camera) How many would you guess?

LEON: We're estimating right now about 100,000.

MESERVE (voice-over): The cigars, worth $10 to $50 a piece, are sent by online companies in Switzerland to buyers all over the U.S.

BRIAN BELL, U.S. CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION: We've seen them going to law firms. We've seen them going to businesses. We've seen them going to...

MESERVE (on camera): Law firms are buying contraband?

BELL: Apparently so.

MESERVE (voice-over): The importation of products from Fidel Castro's Cuba has been banned since 1962, when President Kennedy imposed a trade embargo.

But the illegal shipments of Cuban cigars became obvious only recently, when the Department of Homeland Security changed shipping rules after the toner cartridge bomb plot. Suddenly, packages over a pound were banned from passenger planes. Cigar shipments piled up in Switzerland until they were put on cargo flights into O'Hare. There, the sheer volume became apparent as they went through security screening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say they're going to incinerate the cigars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh! Does it count as incinerating them if you light them one at a time?

MESERVE: Patrons at Shelley's (ph), a Washington cigar bar, say they'd be happy to dispose of the Cuban cigars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they do it slowly over the course of about an hour...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They incinerate them one at a time, from the start to the finish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's an excellent idea.

MESERVE: And the owner of a cigar shop around the corner says he could sell them in a flash.

JOHN ANDERSON, W. CURTIS DRAPER TOBACCONIST: They would disappear quickly. I would -- my phone would be tied up from the moment I opened until I closed.

MESERVE: But there will be no savoring of the Cuban cigars. They are slated to be destroyed in a blast furnace next month. Until then, they are under the tightest of security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make sure you get the shot of it coming back to me.

MESERVE (on camera): As for the people who ordered these embargoed items, they will still get a box. But inside, they'll find a notice from Customs & Border Protection that the product has been confiscated. As they say, close but no cigar. Candy, back to you.


CROWLEY: Thanks a lot, Jeanne Meserve. Appreciate it.

Some good news that was a bit of a surprise even to the FBI. After crunching the numbers for the first half of 2010, the bureau found overall violent crime was down more than 6 percent from the same time last year. Reported homicides dropped more than 7 percent. All regions of the country seeing a big improvement there, except the northeast, where homicides were up nearly 6 percent.

Generally, the law enforcement community expects more violent crime when money and jobs are tight like they are now. This FBI report does not analyze the reasons for the latest drop.

The man who made it his mission to leave no stone unturned now finds himself on the hot seat. CNN's Jeanne Moos examines how the founder of WikiLeaks has honed the fine art of the cold shoulder.


CROWLEY: Here's a look at "Hot Shots."

In India, street dwellers warm themselves around a fire.

In Brussels, Belgium, the historic building the Grand Place is lit up with Christmas lights.

In Virginia, a U.S. sailor is greeted by his girlfriend after coming home from a seven-month tour of duty on the USS Truman.

And near Mumbai, a seagull soars over the Arabian Sea.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

He has made it his business to expose delicate information about figures around the world, but when it comes to talking about himself, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been practicing the art of the walkout a lot.

Here's CNN Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When you ask the founder of WikiLeaks about his own alleged sexual misconduct, he may just pull a Wiki walkout.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was talk of forcibly spreading her legs, holding her down so she couldn't...


MOOS: An ABC correspondent was the latest to find his interview ended.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I meant by no insult by it.

ASSANGE: Come on.


ASSANGE: Tabloid schmuck.


MOOS: It was a first for the term "tabloid schmuck," but it wasn't Assange's first walkout. That happened when CNN's Atika Shubert asked him about sexual misconduct.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Julian, I'm happy to go on to the next question. All I'm asking is...

ASSANGE: Sorry. You blew it.

MOOS: Off goes the mike.

(on camera) Actually, Assange has had three walkouts, but only if you count the walkout that wasn't on Larry King.

(voice-over) Larry was interviewing Assange live when tape rolled, showing the previous walkout.

LARRY KING, FORMER HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": He's walking off again, apparently. Why will you not respond to that question? Oh, that was the video from before. He's still -- I'm sorry. That threw me, Julian.

ASSANGE: I haven't walked off.

MOOS (on camera): But Julian Assange's walkouts have been demur compared to some others we've seen. For instance, when quarterback Jim Everett got mad at an ESPN host for mocking him, calling him Chris Evert, the female tennis star.

JIM EVERETT, QUARTERBACK: You probably won't say it again.




MOOS: There was the time Naomi Campbell gave the camera a whack.

And the time Yasser Arafat told Christiane Amanpour to be quiet. Even those eyes that have seen so much widened when Arafat hung up on her mid-interview.


MOOS: And Donald Trump dumped his microphone.

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: Do this interview with somebody else. You don't need this. Do it with somebody else.

MOOS: But there was no walkout when "Saturday Night Live's" Assange dissed "TIME" magazine for passing him over and choosing Facebook's founder as Person of the Year.

BILL HADER, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": "TIME" magazine, always on the cutting edge, discovering Facebook only weeks after your grandmother.

MOOS: He's leaking on the press rather than to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I meant no insult by it.

ASSANGE: Come on.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos...

ASSANGE: Tabloid schmuck.

MOOS: ... CNN...


MOOS: ... New York.


CROWLEY: Remember, you can follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on Facebook. Just go to to become a fan.

Tomorrow Wolf is expected back live from our New York studios. For now I'm Candy Crowley in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.