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Feinstein, Rogers Say U.S. Not Safer From Terrorism; Obama Administration Says Working "Smoothly"; Millions Shop Cyber Monday; US Airways Passengers Told to Get Tested for TB; Investigators Say Glasgow Helicopter Crash Never Issued Distress Call; Biden Visits Japan, China; New Call to Free Americans in North Korea; Walker Car Crash; Weather Delays Prince Harry's Trek South

Aired December 2, 2013 - 12:30   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Here's Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Mike Rogers with CNN's Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": Are we safer now than we were a year ago, two years ago, in general?

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CHAIRWOMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't think so. I think terror is up, worldwide. The statistics indicate that. The fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs, trucks being reinforced for those bombs.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I absolutely agree that we're not safer today for the same very reasons. So the pressure on our intelligence services to get it right to prevent an attack are enormous. And it's getting more difficult because we see the -- al Qaeda as we knew it before is metastasizing into something different.


WHITFIELD: And you can watch the full interview with Candy on

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Yeah, worth looking at.

Let's turn our attention to Syria now. The civil war there taking another deadly turn. Heavy caliber weaponry there, an opposition group says at least 72 people were killed in weekend fighting, including 21 found dead in what they are calling a horrible massacre.

WHITFIELD: These deaths add on to an already staggering death toll. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says nearly 126,000 people have been killed in war which started nearly three years ago.

HOLMES: Yeah, of that figure, the group says, 50,000 were Syrian troops. Close to 28,000 were rebel fighters and let's not forget many, many thousands of civilians.

WHITFIELD: Let's bring in CNN's Frederik Pleitgen for an update on this.

So, Fred, we know you've been on the frontlines for a while now. What have you seen?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, one of the interesting things that you measure -- that you mentioned is that staggering death toll of more than 125,000. What makes that even worse is that it's in a conflict that is essentially stalemated. I was in the southern outskirts of Syrian capital of Damascus, yesterday and today, and it really is right on the frontline.

A lot of those areas are held by the rebels, but the government is trying to get them back and has been trying to do so for a very long time. Some of them are under siege, and others, there are very hot battles going on. But he interesting thing about those areas the frontline will move ahead by a block or two every once in awhile, then it will move back.

What you have in the wake of that is absolute destruction, many, many dead people, but really no shift whatsoever in the momentum. So that really is -- really the tone right now is that you have a lot of fighting going on, there's a lot of people dying, but the real momentum on the battlefield doesn't seem to be going anywhere, guys.

HOLMES: Yeah, and, Fred, I know the violence is so widespread and it's been going on day in, day out.

But there's one town I know that you've been looking at, Malula, which is an ancient Christian town. Tell us about that place and the battle for it.

PLEITGEN: Very, very significant, it's an ancient Christian town. as you mentioned. And the Christians here in this country really feel under threat. Syria, of course, has a history of Christianity that's about 2,000 years old, as old as Christianity itself. The interesting thing about this town Malula is that it's one of the last places in the world where the people speak Aramaic, which was the language of Jesus Christ.

It was taken by rebels on the weekend. There are some massive, very important battles going on near Malula for a very important highway that the Syrian government needs in order to resupply with things like fuel and food, as well. And so the rebels have been squeezed out of that hot zone, and then have gone into Malula and taken that place.

Right now it's unclear whether or not the government is going to try and take it back. From what we've heard, most of the civilians have fled from that area. However, there are still some nuns and some monks who are in there.

And I've been to that area, Michael. It's a really, really ancient town, and if that gets loss, it would really be a true loss for humanity.

HOLMES: Yeah, absolutely, it would. It looks like it was a beautiful place, at some point anyway. Fred, thanks so much, Fred Pleitgen in Damascus. Great to have Fred there. Of course, you can have problems with the communications and stuff so that shot wasn't perfect, but it was great to have him there.

WHITFIELD: Now for some other news making headlines, today marks the second day since the Web site overhaul was completed. And Obama administration officials say it's working, quote/unquote, "smoothly" for the vast majority of users.

HOLMES: Yeah, some good news at last.

They're calling it night and day compared to just two months ago when it rolled out and was, of course, plagued with those massive technical problems. Now they say the response time has been lowered to one second.

WHITFIELD: They've lowered the error rate to below 1 percent and 50,000 users can be online at the same time now.

HOLMES: All right, if Black Friday wasn't good enough for you, Cyber Monday is in full swing.

WHITFIELD: Another shot.

HOLMES: Oh, yes.

WHITFIELD: Did you get your shopping done?

HOLMES: That's the way to shop, beats the mall every time.

WHITFIELD: It does indeed. Cyber Monday is here, and that's why millions of people are going online today to catch Internet-only deals that they couldn't get in stores during Black Friday.

HOLMES: Yeah, some retailers so eager to boost sales they're extending discounts through to Friday, calling it "Cyber Week.

WHITFIELD: It's insane, isn't it?

HOLMES: Any opportunity.

WHITFIELD: We just want your money.

HOLMES: Yes, however you want to give it.

WHITFIELD: Any day of the week.

HOLMES: We'll extend it through till March. Shopper can get, at the moment, about 50 percent off electronics and other items.

Yeah, there's been a lot written about, though, is 50 percent a discount?

WHITFIELD: Marked up and then -

HOLMES: Marked down. WHITFIELD: 50 percent, and relative to what?


WHITFIELD: So, bottom line, retailers want you to shop. They're making it easy for you whether it's to come in the stores to get a deal, or whether it's via Internet.

HOLMES: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: Good luck with all of that.

HOLMES: And Cyber Monday, by the way, that was coined back in 2005, if you didn't know. And since 2010, Cyber Monday has actually been the biggest online shopping day of the year, perhaps not surprisingly.

WHITFIELD: Not at all. All right, it's so convenient.

HOLMES: We're talking about it.

WHITFIELD: I know. It's so convenient.

HOLMES: You won't get me near a mall.

WHITFIELD: Still to many could, imagine boarding a flight and then being told that you might have been exposed to someone with active tuberculosis.

HOLMES: Passengers on one US Airways flight say that happened to them.

What they were told to do, next, coming up here on "AROUND THE WORLD".


HOLMES: Welcome back.

Some airline passengers who flew US Airways Express from Austin, Texas, to Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday say they're being urged to get tested for TB

A man who was thought to have active tuberculosis was reportedly taken off the flight before it reached the gate. This was at Sky Harbor Airport. Now, the CDC says, quote, "No infectious disease has been confirmed." We're going to have more on this, a conversation about how much of a risk was it, next on "CNN NEWSROOM."

To Glasgow, Scotland now, air accident investigators say the police helicopter that crashed into a busy pub over the weekend did not issue a distress call before it came down. You see there a crane lifting the chopper off the pub this morning. They had to strap it together before they did so because it really was in pieces. Search-and-rescue still going through the wreckage, looking perhaps for more remains.

We know that a hundred people were packed in there for a concert on Friday when the helicopter came through the roof, turned into a fireball. There are several people still in hospital. As yet, we don't photo what caused this crash.

WHITFIELD: And Vice President Joe Biden is in Japan. He arrived in Tokyo earlier today. His visit comes amid a growing dispute between Japan and China over China's recent claim of a large swath of air space in the region.

Anna Coren is in the Japanese capital with details on the dispute and the vice president's mission to Asia.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Japan as part of a week-long trip to Asia, amid new tensions here in the Asia-Pacific region. It follows China's announcement of an air defense identification zone over disputed territory between China and Japan.

Well, last week, the United States got involved, flying unarmed B-52 bombers over the area along with several Japanese surveillance planes. The Chinese responded by scrambling fighter jets.

Vice President Biden hopes to not only defuse tensions but also reaffirm America's commitment to the region.

Anna Coren, CNN, Tokyo.


WHITFIELD: And here's a look how Biden's week is set to play out.

He spends tomorrow in Japan. He'll meet with the prime minister there. Then on Wednesday, the vice president heads to China where he is expected to discuss the air space dispute. And then on Thursday, Biden travels to South Korea where he will be briefed on the nuclear situation with North Korea. And then the vice president heads home. So yes, a pretty busy week.

HOLMES: A lot to talk about, too.

Boy, well, a ray of hope for a pair of Americans being held captive in North Korea, a look at a new call to free the men.

Plus, we're going to hear from the sister of one of those being held who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

We'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: A new call for the release of Americans being held captive in North Korea. The U.S. government has pleaded for Pyongyang to set free Merrill Newman, pictured on the right, and Kenneth Bae. Newman was snatched from a plane just minutes before he was to leave in October. For Bae it's been a longer ordeal. He was arrested a year ago in November. Bae's sister spoke to CNN's "New Day" earlier telling us her family is now worried about his health. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRI CHUNG, SISTER OF MAN IMPRISONED IN NORTH KOREA: He's been in the hospital since August 5th. He's had some medical conditions, pre- existent prior to North Korea. You know, he had diabetes, he had enlarged heart, hypertension and my understanding is, while he was in labor camp, some of his injuries from before, he had some back injuries and a leg -- radiating leg pain, that had reoccurred during his hard labor because he was working in the field eight hours a day for six days and I think his body - and I think he has some malnutrition as well. He had lost 50 pounds during his 80 days of hard labor.


WHITFIELD: Bae's sister believes her brother's religious beliefs got him in trouble. Kenneth Bae was found guilty of crimes against North Korea and sentenced to 15 years hard labor. And this as Merrill Newman has release a video that North Korea is calling a quote "apology." Here's our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.


MERRILL NEWMAN, AMERICAN HELD IN NORTH KOREA: I can understand that in U.S. and western countries there is misleading information and propaganda about DPRK.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): North Korean state media released this video over the weekend of detained American tourist, 85-year-old Merrill Newman, reading a handwritten apology. Pyongyang saying Newman admits he's guilty of big crimes when he fought for the U.S. in the Korean War killing civilians, working with anti-communist guerrillas and planning now 60 years later to try to meet up with them.

The video shows Newman signing the four-page statement he read on camera dated November 9th and sealing it with his thumb print in red ink. What happened to him had next isn't clear after being held since late October, taken off a plane just as his tour group was leaving. The White House is now weighing in. A spokeswoman saying the U.S. is "deeply concerned," calling on North Korea to release Newman and fellow American Kenneth Bae, now held for more than a year. But one expert says that could complicate an already sensitive situation.

DR. HAN PARK, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: North Korea doesn't want to give the impression to the world that North Korea is giving in to the demand or pressures coming from Washington.

STARR: Former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, who says his North Korean contacts aren't responding, told CNN on Sunday that Kim Jong-un isn't following North Korea's usual pattern of releasing Americans after getting a purported confession.

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.N. AMBASSADOR (voice-over): So this is baffling. But this is a new regime of the new leader. And I suspect he's sending different signals, but nobody knows what those signals are.

STARR (on camera): Richardson has some of the best contacts in this country with North Korean leaders. So the fact that they're not responding is of some concern.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


HOLMES: Still to come here on "AROUND THE WORLD", a group of wounded veterans trekking across Antarctica and they've got a British royal in tow. We'll check in on them.

And also, it could be life imitating art. Police told CNN that the "Fast and Furious" actor Paul Walker may have been drag racing when he died in that car crash. We'll have some details for you coming up next.


WHITFIELD: The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department tells CNN that drag racing may have been involved in that fiery crash that killed "Fast and Furious" movie actor Paul Walker.




HOLMES: Yes, some are wondering if perhaps it's a case of life imitating art. Walker, of course, starred for years with Vin Diesel in the drag racing, speed chasing blockbuster series. Well, now an investigator says the Porsche he was riding in on Saturday night crashed into a light pole and burst into the flames.

WHITFIELD: It killed Walker and his racing team partner about 30 miles north of Hollywood. A video posted on YouTube shows the fire just moments after that horrific crash.

HOLMES: CNN's Alan Duke was at the scene of the crash Saturday night, joins us now.

Alan, new details seem to be coming out hourly almost on this death. Any word now on this drag racing theory, how fast they were going?

ALAN DUKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they were speeding. That is known. The sheriff's investigator told me that that is a fact, they were going faster than the 45-mile-per-hour posted speed limit, which ironically was posted on the big light pole that their Porsche knocked down. How fast they were going and was caused - was there drag racing?

The sheriff's investigator says they got a tip, a phone tip, saying that there was another car involved and it was possibly drag racing. I've learned this morning that a sheriff's investigator did ask some people who were nearby if they saw any signs of drag racing. Right now, there's been nothing identified. This is all speculation. Part of a theory that the sheriff's department is investigating.

But I can tell you, that car is a very powerful -- it's an overpowered Porsche. Only a few hundred of them made in the world. And that is a racing car, not really for the street, and very hard to handle.

WHITFIELD: Now, some eyewitnesses say that they thought maybe he was just looking at the vehicle almost like a test drive. Of course we have police authorities saying possibly drag racing. What about that area? This is north of Hollywood in the Valencia area in Santa Clarita. Is drag racing something that people would generally see there?

DUKE: If you look at the street, you'll see skid marks, doughnuts, the telltale signs of people showing off their vehicles there. It's about a 60 foot or more wide street. Five lanes on a very quiet business park area. It's a loop. It's a circle. Almost like a racetrack.

A sheriff's investigator told me this morning they've had complaints of racing there. That a couple of years ago they did a sheriff's department crackdown there in order to enforce it. However, it was a quiet holiday weekend and plenty of room for you to show off your high powered car. We don't know that that's what happened. They're investigating.

WHITFIELD: All right, Alan Duke, thanks so much, in Los Angeles. Keep us posted.

HOLMES: Yes, a lot of people around the world honoring him. A very, very popular movie, particularly in Asia as well, right throughout Southeast Asia. This was a massively popular series.


HOLMES: Another one coming out, of course.

All right, Prince Harry, we've been talking about this for a while, other competitors, they were on that -- heading to the South Pole. Well, they've now reached the starting line of what's a wonderful little adventure.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. But what may be typical for that part of the world, bad weather. Well, it struck again. And the race is on hold for yet another 24 hours, perhaps even more.

HOLMES: You never know with the weather there.


HOLMES: No one said getting to the bottom of the world is easy. So why is he headed to one of the planet's most hostile environments? Well, as I said, it is a good cause. Here's Max Foster.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Harry is part of the British team racing against a team from the U.S. and a team of Canadians and Australians. The fourth in line to the British throne, and Afghanistan veteran, is the patron of Walking With the Wounded, an organization founded to help retrain injured troops. He's undertaking this grueling trek with 12 other soldiers to highlight the challenges faced by wounded service men and women.

PRINCE HARRY: If I'm given the opportunity, it means that I can actually help these guys out with, you know, creating more awareness for them or whatever, then, you know, so what it's minus 50, so what it's 90-mile-an-hour winds. You've got to put - you know, occasionally you've got to put yourself through that for a good cause.

CAPT. MARK WISE, TEAM U.S.: He definitely understands the mission, not only of the deployed operations, but also of bringing soldiers home and making sure that they return to their family and that they're who they were once again and they can contribute - continue to contribute to society. So it's great to have him.

FOSTER: The race to the pole will see Harry and the teams braving temperatures of minus 49 degrees Fahrenheit, crossing 208 miles of dangerous terrain, navigating around crevasses and all the while pulling sleds weighing more than 165 pounds. Harry seems up for the challenge, even joking about the obstacles he faced before setting off, like a broken toe.

PRINCE HARRY: My toe is probably 95 percent now. So I'm fine. You know, whatever setbacks I've had, it's irrelevant amongst these guys and it always was going to be. There was no question of pulling out.

FOSTER: He even hinted Prince William wished he was on the expedition.

PRINCE HARRY: My brother, yes, I think he's just quite jealous that I managed to get away from a screaming child.

FOSTER: But for the next few weeks, this prince leaves palace comforts far behind on a symbolic mission to help fellow soldiers rebuild their lives.

Max Foster, CNN, London.


WHITFIELD: Wow, now that's an adventure.

HOLMES: That's a wonderful cause, too.



All right, thanks for watching "AROUND THE WORLD". Good to have you here. You'll be back tomorrow.

WHITFIELD: Thank you. I'm back tomorrow with you. Thank you so much.

HOLMES: CNN NEWSROOM starts right now. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, investigators have the data recorders in hand and are getting a better sense what may have caused a commuter trail to derail in New York City. Four people were killed.

Right now, the White House is giving the new and improved Obamacare website some positive reviews. The Obama administration says the site is running smoothly for the vast majority of users.

And right now, President Obama is getting ready for a speech marking World AIDS Day. Activists are calling for more money to combat HIV and AIDS. We're going to bring you highlights from the president's remarks live this hour.

Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We start with the deadly commuter train crash in New York City.