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Family Execution in North Korea; Levinson was Undercover; New Jersey's Bill Baroni Resigns from Port Authority; Budget Bill Uncertain in Senate; U.S. Drone Kills Innocents in Yemeni Wedding; Toronto Mayor Ford Sued for Defamation

Aired December 13, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: That, of course, being Kim Jong-un. He is the young leader who holds all the cards in North Korea. Analysts are puzzled by all this. They want to know, is he power hungry, is he afraid? What is going on? Well, just in a minute, we're going to talk about all that. But first, Paula Hancocks with the back story.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A young man in mourning walks alongside his father's coffin. Two years later, five of the seven men walking with him have been fired or executed on the orders of Kim Jong-un.

JASPER KIM, ASIA-PACIFIC GLOBAL RESOURCES GROUP: I think, in the early days, he was kind of a boy leader. Now he is basically a man leader. And a man leader -- I say that purposely because North Korea is a very patriarchal society. So his audience are basically 60 or 70-year-old males with a military background that he has to earn their respect.

HANCOCKS: Little was known of the man introduced to the world by his father, the late Kim Jong-il, in 2010. Partly educated in Switzerland, so exposed to the western world, many dared to hope he would drive change in the isolated nation.

But then came the rocket launches and nuclear tests. Like his father before him, Kim Jong-un proved impervious to international criticism. The country's top military man, Lee Yong-ha, was fired last year. The top political man, Jang Song Thaek, fired and executed this week.

PROFESSOR MOON CHUNG-IN, YONSEI UNIVERSITY: I really don't think it is in the (INAUDIBLE) in brutal act of, you know, Kim Jong-un, but it's more of the product of power struggle within North Korea court.

HANCOCKS (on camera): Putting his personal stamp on the leadership is putting it mildly. Kim Jong-un has replaced almost half of the major figures that were empowered during his father's reign, that's according to the unification ministry here in Seoul.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Alongside the (INAUDIBLE), Kim Jong-un showed a more personable side to his father, often smiling on camera, appearing to relish the adoration that surrounds him. And then there's Dennis Rodman. An unlikely friendship between dictator and basketball star. DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: He has to do his job, but he's a very good guy.

HANCOCKS: Tell that to the two American citizens arrested recently. Korean War veteran Merrill Newman was released last week after filming a coerced apology for war crimes he now says he never committed. And missionary and tour guide Kenneth Bae, still held after more than one year. An apology from Bae not yet enough to secure his freedom.

Kim Jong-un is a leader who's certainly grown in confidence, but not in the way the west was hoping.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


MALVEAUX: Joining me from Harvard University, former Ambassador Nicholas Burns, professor of international relations, a 27 year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service.

So, thanks, Nick, for being with us here.

Got a ton of questions about this story and a lot of people very concerned about what we saw happen in North Korea. First of all, they accused his uncle of so many things, being a traitor, being a womanizer, being a dog. I mean, just basically anything that was awful that you could think about. Do we think that these charges were trumped up just simply so that Kim Jong-un can consolidate power? Was anything even real when it came to that execution?

NICHOLAS BURNS, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, it's very hard to snow, Suzanne. This is a -- this signifies, I think, the brutality of that regime. The utter and sheer brutality of this mafia style family dictatorship in North Korea. And it's very much evocative of the Stalinist show trials in Moscow and the Soviet Union of the 1920s, and especially of the 1930s, trumped up charges, people executed by the state, very quickly without, of course, any recourse to the law.

But I think it also shows the insecurity of this young man, this young, untested leader, because clearly, if you look at the written statement of the North Korean government put out, they pointed to others in the regime who are also guilty of treason. And so it may be a power struggle underway, but that's a closed society. It's very difficult to know for sure.

MALVEAUX: Nick, what is the fear now of what could happen next from this young leader? Are we thinking that potentially he could launch some sort of missile test, a nuclear test? Do we think that there is more he needs to prove now that he's executed his own uncle?

BURNS: Well, this is very much of concern right now. It would fit the pattern with his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, with his father, Kim Jong- il. When times - when there are domestic troubles in North Korea, sometimes they want to create an external event to take the minds of their people off the misery within North Korea. And so, even before this execution of the uncle, there was concern, Suzanne, that the North Korea regime might resort to ballistic missile tests or another nuclear test. They clearly are now trying to reconstitute their nuclear apparatus. So if you're in South Korea or Japan or the United States of America, you're very concerned right now about what the North Korean regime might do. And I think Beijing is worried as well because this young leader appears not to be listening to the Chinese government.

MALVEAUX: And, Nick, finally here, I mean, what's happening at the DMZ? I mean I imagine South Koreans pretty worried, as well. Are they going to beef up any kind of force, the presence there along the border?

BURNS: Well, the DMZ's been a source of tension for a long time. I don't think most people would predict any kind of a major military advance by the North Koreans. Certainly not across the DMZ, which is very well defended by the South Koreans and the United States, but I think more in the line of an missile test or a nuclear test. That's the kind of thing they've done before to deflect attention from the problems inside North Korea. So I think that the U.S., the South Koreans, the Chinese, the Japanese, very worried at this time because this young man's very unpredictable.

MALVEAUX: Yes. Nick, you said it, I mean a lot of people worried and wondering what is his next step here. Nick Burns, thank you very much. We appreciate your perspective, as always.

And as Nick was mentioning, China, a close trading partner and ally with North Korea, also reacting to all of this. China's official position, what happens in North Korea stays in North Korea.


HONG LEI, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): These are the internal affairs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. As a neighboring country, we hope that it maintains national stability, economic development, and the happiness of the people.


MALVEAUX: So, Chinese officials say they are watching, of course, very closely what happens in North Korea. For now, the relationship still remains the same.

We are also covering this, a bombshell revelation today that the missing American, Robert Levinson, was on a secret, unauthorized mission from the CIA when he disappeared in Iran. That was more than six years ago. The Associated Press and "Washington Post" now say that Levinson, a former FBI agent, was under contract to the CIA when he visited Iran's Kish Island back in March of 2007.

Now, the alleged spy connection is in stark contrast to the assertions by both the U.S. government and Levinson's family, who say he went there on private business. Well, a source close to the investigation now tells CNN, three CIA employees were fired over the scandal. Secretary of State John Kerry, he was just asked about this. He was pretty cautious in his response. Listen.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: With respect to Mr. Levinson, I don't have any comment whatsoever on the condition with respect to employment or any other issue, except to say to you that we have raised the issue of his whereabouts on a continuous basis. I have personally raised it with the Iranians in the course of our discussions, and we will continue to try to seek his release and return to the United States.


MALVEAUX: Want to bring in Susan Candiotti, who's been really covering this story literally for years.

You know the Levinson family very well here. First of all, their response, their reaction to this bombshell news that now, you know, their loved one here, he might even be in more trouble potentially because of that revelation.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, for the longest time, the family, when asked, said it had no knowledge about what he was doing. Their impression, they said always, that he was conducting private business over there. Obviously, Suzanne, this is a very, very difficult and sensitive situation right now. The family saying that they're, of course, very concerned about Bob Levinson's safety. He is their loved one. They're deeply concerned about him and have been for many, many years now.

But the fact of the matter is, they say that, you know, that they consider that he worked very hard for the United States. They said that he has dedicated himself, including risking his own life to work for the United States for a number of years.

Remember, for years, he worked for the DEA and for the FBI. And so they said that it is - that there's some people in the U.S. government who have done their very best to try to find him, but there are those who have not. And so they're looking forward to trying to get him home, someone they've been trying to get home for at least seven years now.

And I want to remind you and put it into context here. Remember that the AP, why did they say that they reported the story when they did overnight? And they said that they had documented this information back in 2010, but that for on three different occasions, Washington asked them to withhold it saying that they had promising leads.

Well, the AP said that because of that, but because nothing happened over the course of six and a half years, and because with near certainty Iran likely knows Bob Levinson's true alleged situation that he was working for the CIA, that the AP felt it was compelled to run with the story now. Now -


CANDIOTTI: Yes, go ahead.

MALVEAUX: Susan, I'm just curious here, I know, you know, when it's a secret job, it's pretty much secret with everybody. Was there any possibility that his family did know what he did and just didn't reveal it, or were they as shocked as everyone else?

CANDIOTTI: Well, as it turns out, there's a lot that goes into this. But suffice to say that at one point along the way, and it was in time frame maybe a year or so after Bob Levinson disappeared, they came into information and actually it was someone that was working with the family, a family friend -


CANDIOTTI: They managed to hack into a computer communication between Bob Levinson and someone with the CIA. And they said that they retrieved -- they had their own files -


CANDIOTTI: From Bob Levinson, but also has information of communications. They took that information to the Senate Intelligence Committee, who in turn took it to the CIA, and that prompted the CIA's investigation.


CANDIOTTI: At first, the family said that the CIA lied about it, but then acknowledge this to them.

MALVEAUX: All right.

CANDIOTTI: And, in fact, a payment was negotiated, a settlement, for $2.5 million to the family.

MALVEAUX: All right. We've got to leave it there. Susan Candiotti, thank you very much. Susan, appreciate that story. It's very compelling.

And we have been following this all week. This is Pretoria, South Africa. This is the third and final day of public viewing of Nelson Mandela's body. It has wrapped up today. And the government estimates about 100,000 people came to pay their respects over the last three days. Many of them standing in the heat, the summer heat, for hours and hours and hours. Now, Reuters news agency says the crowd was so large that at one shuttle site they surged through a police barricade. Mandela's body will be flown to his home province tomorrow for burial on Sunday.

Here's more of what we're working on for AROUND THE WORLD.

A U.S. drone hits a wedding party in Yemen killing more than a dozen people. Yemeni officials say it was a mistake. Well, U.S. officials, they're not commenting. The story, straight ahead.

And many in India outraged now over a new ruling that bans gay sex. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just in a state of shock. It's not even being (ph) a (ph) horror. I'm just shocked. How can you do that? It's almost like my country, my mother disowning me in this way (ph).


MALVEAUX: Hear how people now are fighting back.


MALVEAUX: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has just announced the resignation of New Jersey's top Port Authority figure Bill Baroni. Now, as this controversy is swirling regarding allegations now that politics played a role in a traffic study that jammed up several lanes of George Washington Bridge. Now, to talk about all this, to sort it all out, is our Jake Tapper.

And, Jake, first of all, I want to explain this to our viewers here because clearly it sounds initially on the face a local story, but it has national implications. Tell us why.


On September 9th, three of the lanes going into New York from Fort Lee, New Jersey, onto the George Washington bridge, of those three, two of them were closed. That caused a lot of congestion. Now, that's a fact.

Here are what we have. There are Democrats alleging that this was payback from the Governor Chris Christie administration because the mayor of Fort Lee had refused to endorse Chris Christie a few weeks before.

That is an allegation with no evidence, but it is one that Democrats are making, including national Democrats, as of today, the Democratic National Committee putting out a video, David Plouffe a top advisor to President Obama tweeting about this.

Here is what Governor Christie says. Governor Christie says, and he points to comments that officials made, officials of the Port Authority made under oath, which is that there was a traffic study about whether or not Fort Lee should have those three lanes.

It did not go through the proper protocols, and for that reason, two individuals who were political appointees to the Port Authority from New Jersey have resigned, one of them today, the deputy executive director, Bill Baroni, a friend of Governor Christie.

Christie also says -- in addition to this being accountability for making a mistake, Christie also says Baroni was going to leave anyway, and he praised him, but he did say this was a mistake and it should have gone through the proper channels. So, when Governor Christie was asked today at his press conference, is this study a real thing, Christie said, I have no reason to think it wasn't a real study. I trust Bill Baroni, and he said that allegations that this had anything to do with a payback are ridiculous.

But what it does show you above everything is that Democrats have Governor Christie in their sights.

MALVEAUX: Yes, of course, for 2016, it really seems like they are trying to at least pay a lot of attention here, whether or not there's anything to this, whether there's fire with the smoke, but all of that local but potentially national implications.

Also want to talk about what's happening in Washington, Jake. Looks like, of course, the budget deal might be able to avoid another government shutdown. That is critical. We know that the House approved to keep the government running, at least for the next two years. How does it look in the Senate?

TAPPER: Not as good as you might think. Normally, the House is the place where it's tough to get bipartisan legislation through. The House is -- the rules in the House make it much more difficult, and House Republicans tend to be more conservative than Senate Republicans, in aggregate.

But right now, I am told ,Democrats in the Senate are worried that there won't be enough Republicans to pass this, obviously, to have 60 votes to have the threshold to avoid a filibuster.

The question is, are there five Republicans who are willing to do that? As of now, there are no Senate Republicans who have announced that they are definitely going to vote for this and a number of Senate Republicans, not just the ones possibly going to run for president in 2016 like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, but others like Lindsey Graham, Jeff Sessions, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who is up for re-election -


TAPPER -- all of them are nos. So right now, although I'm not saying it's not going to pass, right now Democrats are worried that there won't be enough Republicans to get this through.

MALVEAUX: And, of course, there's a lot of internal politics, House Speaker John Boehner really coming under a lot of heat from the tea party caucus. How is he expected -- is he expected, first of all, to keep his job as the speaker and what do we think is going to be the ramifications of all the infighting that's going on now with the Republican Party?

TAPPER: I don't know what the ramifications are going to be. It's pretty remarkable to have House Speaker John Boehner criticize these outside political groups, not just tea party groups, but groups like the Club for Growth and -- pardon me -- other outside groups who have been critical of attempts to compromise. He said that they were against the budget deal, the budget compromise, before they had a chance to look at it. A lot of establishment Republicans are very upset at these outside groups challenging incumbents, making it more difficult to govern.

From the perspective of the outside groups, these establishment Republicans have lost sight of why they're there. I think that fight's going to go on for quite some time.

MALVEAUX: All right, you got a tease for us for "THE LEAD" this afternoon? What you got on your plate?

TAPPER: We've got a great show. We're going to talk about Iran. We're going to talk about North Korea. We'll talk to one of the Newtown moms.

And then, of course, we're going to take a look at this debate right now going on -- in our pop culture lead, this debate why there aren't any black women on "Saturday Night Live."

As you may know, Lorne Michaels just announced that he is holding auditions, so we'll take a look at that in pop culture after going through all that other, much more serious stuff, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Jake. I promise not to audition. Thanks. I'll be watching.

TAPPER: You're very funny, though. You're very funny.

MALVEAUX: I'm the only one who thinks so, so we'll leave it at that.

Here's more -- thank you, Jake -- what we're doing for AROUND THE WORLD.

A U.S. drone hits a wedding part in Yemen, killing more than a dozen people. That story, straight ahead.



Officials in Yemen say a U.S. drone mistakenly attacked a convoy of vehicles heading backing from a wedding. They said at least 14 people were killed, 22 others wounded.

So far, there has been no comment from the U.S. government.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom, he's joining us from Beirut where it's about -- after 7:00 at night.

And, Mohammed, first of all, tell us -- give us the back story about how this whole thing happened and what was the U.S. actually trying to hit and target?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the Yemeni officials are calling this a tragic mistake that couldn't have happened at a worse time.

This happened in the city of Radda, which Yemeni officials routinely call a stronghold for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That's the wing of al Qaeda that is housed in Yemen, It's considered to be the most dangerous wing of the al Qaeda network in the world, a substantial threat to the U.S. and to other allies of Yemen.

This happened, according to Yemeni officials, as a wedding convoy was on the road. They say that the U.S. intelligence believed there were four cars in this convoy, that it held wanted al Qaeda terrorists and that those four cars were struck.

That wasn't the case, that there were al Qaeda militants in this convoy, that they were simply innocent people going to a wedding, 14 people killed, at least 22 injured, nine in critical condition.

The residents of Radda that I'm speaking with are extremely angry. They are outraged, and they are saying this shows yet again what they and others across Yemen have been pleading with the government for years now, that an end to the drone program must happen and it must happen and soon.


MALVEAUX: Mohammed, we did hear from President Obama earlier. He actually said he was going to cut down, he was certainly going to take a closer look at the U.S. drone program, particularly in Yemen, but it certainly looks like it is in full operation here.

How is the U.S. government explaining itself and the authority that it does have to operate these U.S. drones in Yemen?

JAMJOOM: Well, the U.S. government rarely talks about the drone program in Yemen, but I've spoken to Yemeni officials over the years and they've said on many occasions that they need the help from the U.S., that the drone program is essential for a place like Yemen because there in Yemen you have a very weak central government that cannot control such a tribal society, such a poor country which has become a hub for al Qaeda, where it's easy for militants to get into, access to plot out spectacular attacks against all its regional neighbors and other countries across the world.

We must remember Yemen is in a strategic area. It neighbors Saudi Arabia, the largest oil exporter in the world. It's key for the U.S. to make sure that Yemen doesn't descend into complete chaos, does not become a failed state.

That all having been said, though, there is increasing anger in Yemen because of the drone program. There have been other mistakes like this in the past.


And because of that, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been able to utilize this to try to recruit more members to their organization.

MALVEAUX: All right.

JAMJOOM: Just last week -


JAMJOOM: -- you had al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula launch a spectacular attack against the defense ministry, 52 people killed.

It seems that they're only becoming stronger even as they're targeted more.


MALVEAUX: All right, Mohammed, thank you very much, Mohammed Jamjoom.

The mayor of Toronto, some calling him the "crack mayor," making news again, this time Rob Ford is being sued by a newspaper reporter for something he said an about that reporter in a TV interview.

So listen to this. Watch this.


MAYOR ROB FORD, TORONTO: Well, I guess the worst one was Daniel Dale in my backyard taking pictures.

I have little kids. When a guy's taking pictures of little kids, I don't want to say that word, but you start thinking, what's this guy all about? And I just lost it.


MALVEAUX: Well, the reporter that he mentioned. Daniel Dale of "The Toronto Star," says that mayor's statement right there insinuated that he was a pedophile, so is he suing. He's also suing the TV station that aired the interview.

We're watching this. In India, some say it is a move that is taking the country back to the dark ages.

Coming up, what the Supreme Court did that has outraged the gay community.