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Interview with State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf; ISIS Claims Execution of Second American Journalist; Inside North Korea's Control Over CNN Interviews

Aired September 2, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. ISIS horror. A new video showing what appears to be the execution of an American journalist by beheading. Video clues - how are the grim new images different from the execution video of American James Foley? And what might experts learn by comparing them?

President Obama's crisis. What impact will all of this have on a president increasingly facing bipartisan criticism for his handling of the growing terror threat?

We want to welcome our viewer 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: We're following breaking news, the beheading of a second American by ISIS forces shown in a gruesome video released by the terror group just a few hours ago. The victim, American journalist Steven Sotloff who says on camera only moments before his death that he is "paying the price for U.S. strikes against ISIS."

CNN's global resources are on the story, including our correspondents and our guests around the world.

Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, to begin our coverage this hour.

What is the very latest, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Steven Sotloff's family is reacting now. It's a simple statement, a sad statement, saying -- quote -- "The family knows of the video and is grieving privately."

Watching this video, and it is alarming, it is striking how it is aimed directly at the U.S. Its title is "A Second Message to America," the other, of course, "The Beheading of James Foley." It also addresses President Obama directly, saying, "Obama, I am back," those words spoken by an executioner.

As a second American is murdered on camera, this is becoming more and more a direct confrontation between the ISIS -- between the U.S. and ISIS. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): The image is haunting and familiar, an American in an orange jumpsuit on his knees, his killer all in black standing above him brandishing a knife; 13 days after American James Foley was killed, a new video appears to show journalist Steven Sotloff brutally beheaded by ISIS as well.

The masked ISIS executioner who appears to be speaking with the same voice and British accent as Foley's killer made clear the murder was aimed directly at the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.

SCIUTTO: Sotloff, 31 years old, grew up in South Florida. He was freelancing for several publications, including "TIME" and "The Christian Science Monitor," when he disappeared while reporting from Syria in August 2013.

Staring straight ahead, his head shaven, Sotloff himself speaks to the camera before he was apparently killed, likely under duress, saying he has to pay the price for U.S. intervention. Next to him is another hostage identified by ISIS as David Haines, a British citizen who ISIS says may be its next victim.

SHIRLEY SOTLOFF, MOTHER OF STEVEN SOTLOFF: My son Steven is in your hands.

SCIUTTO: Only last week, Sotloff's mother released a video pleading for her son's life.

SOTLOFF: I ask you to please release my child.

SCIUTTO: Today, the president's point person on Iraq, Brett McGurk, vowed a firm American response.

BRETT MCGURK, U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: It's just a reminder of the barbarism of this organization and I think President Obama has shown that when organizations do these types of things to American citizens, they do not go unanswered.


SCIUTTO: Now watching this video, another thing that is striking is how calm Steven Sotloff is, even as he delivers what he must have known would have been his last words, calm even at the point when the knife goes to his neck.

So lost in the politics, the military options and slick propaganda of ISIS, Wolf, we have talked about this before. This is a very sad human story and another American family who has to watch this from afar, as their son, believed to be perished at hand of ISIS.

BLITZER: It does obviously put a lot more pressure on the president to do something about ISIS, not only in Iraq but in Syria. SCIUTTO: There's no question. We saw the reaction after James

Foley's killing. For many Americans, that put ISIS on the map. It certainly entered it more into the conversation, not just in the public or in the media, but in Congress and we have seen today statement after statement coming from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers calling for military action against ISIS.

BLITZER: And I suspect there will be some major military action in the days and weeks to come. But we shall see.

SCIUTTO: We shall see. The president is still reserving judgment.

BLITZER: Yes. He's obviously formulating a strategy when it comes to ISIS in Syria. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.

So far, no comment from the president directly on Steven Sotloff's execution, although reporters shouted his name, Sotloff's name as the president left the White House earlier this afternoon hoping to get a remark from the president. The president, by the way, is on Air Force One right now, and he's heading to Europe. First stop in Estonia, that's right next door to Russia.

Our CNN White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in the capital of Estonia, Tallinn.

What are you picking up over there, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you in just the last several minutes a White House official did confirm that the president was briefed on the video of the apparent killing of Steven Sotloff just before he boarded Air Force One in route to Tallinn here in Estonia.

But one thing we should point out, White House officials, national security officials with the Obama administration, they are not doubting the authenticity of the video at this point, but they still want to go through the process of analyzing it and confirming its authenticity and they also want to know some answers to a few basic questions. Where did it take place, when did it take place, is the person who carries out the apparent execution of Steven Sotloff the same person who beheaded James Foley?

Those are key questions in all of this. And a senior administration official who talked to some reporters here earlier this evening said it is still believed a small number of Americans are being held by ISIS perhaps in Syria. There are Americans who are still in danger.

Having said all of that, Wolf, obviously, as you have been talking with Jim Sciutto, there's a great deal of growing pressure building on the president to get tough and to do more on ISIS. They have been doing airstrikes in Iraq, but now there are members of Congress who want to see the same happen in Syria. But you heard the president say last week, he doesn't have a strategy for dealing with ISIS in Syria yet.

That prompted a response from Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee who said perhaps the president is being too cautious when it comes to dealing with ISIS. Earlier today, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest he was asked about that and said the president does take risks in his foreign policy and cited the case of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

That goes to show you right there, Wolf, that White House officials are sensitive to this criticism. We will have to see whether or not the president addresses it. He will be, I think, asked about this tomorrow at a news conference in about 12 hours from now and then he gives a speech here in Estonia that is really designed at easing tensions here in Eastern Europe.

As you know, Wolf, these smaller NATO countries, especially here in the Baltics, are watching what is happening in Ukraine right now and getting very nervous about Russia's intentions here as well, so a lot on the president's plate. He is juggling all of it at the same time. He heads to NATO later on this week to try to rally other NATO countries for perhaps more military action in Syria.

That's something that the president wants to do first before on to Syria from Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's really when you think about it a statement of no confidence in NATO. These small countries like Estonia, where you are, Lithuania, Latvia, even Poland, these are major NATO allies now.

There's a commitment, a treat commitment that if one NATO ally is attacked, all of the other NATO allies including the United States have to come to the defense of these -- so why should they be nervous if they are a NATO ally? Do they really think the U.S. wouldn't come to their aid if Russia were to move against them?

ACOSTA: I think that's a key question that is going to be asked all this week, Wolf. Article 5 of the NATO charter stipulates that as you said, if one nation is attacked, even as small as Estonia, the rest of the NATO countries must come to that country's defense.

As a matter of fact, Article 5 was first enforced after the terror attacks on 9/11 when the rest of the NATO partners came to the defense of the United States. And so, White House officials including the president have said that that commitment is sacred.

One thing that you are going to hear about this week, and it could be the centerpiece deliverable of this NATO summit that will take place in Wales, NATO wants to put together and the White House is indicating its support of rapid response security force that could respond at the drop of a hat to the kind of, you know, irregular forces that we saw take control of Crimea.

That is something that NATO is developing. It is not fully baked, but is something they are working on, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta is traveling with the president and we will hear what the president has to say about all this. As you say, he has a news conference coming up in about 12 hours in Estonia, then he's delivering what the White House is calling a major address. Of course CNN will have live coverage.

Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. Joining us, the State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf.

Marie, thanks very much for coming in.

MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Steven Sotloff first. Can you give us your reaction, the State Department's reaction? Have you now definitively concluded that this young 31-year-old journalist was beheaded?

HARF: Well, the intelligence community is still looking at the video. They are working to authenticate it as quickly as possible. This is a process they take very seriously.

Just obviously from looking at it, if this is true, an incredibly sad day, of course, for the Sotloff family, for his friends. We are working very quickly to see if we can authenticate it. But we obviously are thinking about them today and know this is obviously a very difficult day.

BLITZER: And we have heard from the family, the Sotloff family. We saw that very moving video that Shirley Sotloff delivered on Al- Arabiya Television last week appealing to ISIS to save her son. It obviously did no good at all. They are grieving right now. Are you in touch with the family?

HARF: The State Department and other agencies in the U.S. government have been in constant communication with the Sotloff family, with other families of Americans being held overseas.

We are offering any assistance we can. We have also made clear to them and made clear publicly that we are putting every diplomatic, intelligence, military, law enforcement tool behind finding Americans that are being held overseas and bringing them home. Again, a very sad day if this turns out to be true.

BLITZER: What do you know, the State Department, the U.S. government, about this British citizen who is mentioned in this current video, saying he will be beheaded if the U.S. doesn't stop doing in Iraq what it's doing against ISIS targets, David Haines?

HARF: Well, Wolf, we know there are a small number of other Americans, but also other Westerners currently being held by ISIS.

But to be very clear, there is no justification for what ISIS has done, what they have done to James Foley, what they may have now done to Steven Sotloff. And what they're threatening to do, they act like they are operating in the name of Islam and that's just -- nothing could be further from the truth.

There is no justification for what they are doing. And they have shown their willingness to kill anyone in their path, not just Americans, not just Westerners, but Iraqis of all faiths, of all sex. They have shown their complete barbarism in doing that.

BLITZER: Do you believe, assuming the video is authentic, that the executioner of Steven Sotloff is the same executioner of James Foley?

HARF: That's one thing the intelligence community will be looking at. Certainly, as they look this video, we are still working on determining exactly who was James Foley's killer as well. And Brett McGurk, who you showed earlier, an interview with him...

BLITZER: The State Department official.

HARF: Exactly, who works on Iraq, is absolutely right that the president has shown if you hurt Americans, if you harm our people, we will go to any length to hold you accountable and it will not go unanswered.

Right now, you know the president and the whole national security team are looking what more we can do against ISIS. And that's an ongoing conversation.

BLITZER: Is the president still in the process now of coming up with a strategy in dealing with ISIS in Syria?

HARF: Wolf, to be clear, we have taken the fight directly to ISIS inside Iraq. You have seen now well over a hundred strikes taking out ISIS targets. We have already taken the fight there.


HARF: In Iraq.

BLITZER: What about Syria?

HARF: We have been taking steps in Syria to bolster the moderate opposition that is fighting ISIS as well.

But we have all been clear that we are looking at what additional steps we could take. One of the things the secretary will be doing at the NATO summit this week and in other onward travel is having a conversation with our partners about how we build a coalition to more aggressively take the fight to ISIS, because this is not just a threat for the United States, but really for the whole region.

BLITZER: Do you want some of these other Arab countries, Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, for example, the United Arab Emirates -- they have major air forces. They used some of their airpower against Gadhafi in Libya, as you well remember. Do you want them to start launching airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria?

HARF: Well, we're going to having the conversation about what their support might look like. We want every country to bring any resource they can bear against this fight.

And that's the conversation the secretary will be having, as will Secretary Hagel, with our counterparts in the region, with some of the Gulf states about how we take the fight to them. That's a conversation I think you will really see play out over the next week, with the travel overseas.

BLITZER: The secretary, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, following the NATO summit this week in Wales, they will peel off and head to the Middle East. The main goal is what?

HARF: Is to talk to our partners there about how we can build a broad coalition to fight ISIS.

And that's not just a military coalition. That's a financial coalition, a diplomatic coalition, how we cut off the flow of foreign fighters so we don't allow ISIS' ranks to grow with people being able to come into Syria or Iraq from other countries.

It's a broad strategy. We are working on it right now, but it is one we are going to be having a lot of conversations with our partners about over the coming days.

BLITZER: Who are the partners you seek to enlist in this effort?

HARF: Well, we have talked a great deal with our European partners and allies. Obviously, the United Kingdom, we have talked a lot about the British recently.

BLITZER: What about in the Middle East?

HARF: Also in the Middle East.

BLITZER: Who? Which ones?


HARF: We will be talking to the Saudis. We will be talking to the Jordanians and the Emirates and a number of partners who have already pledged a great amount of humanitarian assistance to the Iraqis and the Syrian people who are really suffering under ISIS.

But we will be having conversations with all of those partners, the Turks as well, about how we can fight ISIS together.

BLITZER: And you don't want them just to provide money or diplomatic or political support. You want them to engage militarily in trying to kill ISIS?

HARF: What that support actually looks like is actually going to be the topic of conversation. I don't want to get ahead of what those discussions about what the coalition might look like, but those are all pieces of the puzzle here for how we take on ISIS.

If you look at the success we have had in the past against terrorist organizations, you have to take out their leadership, you have to cut off their funding, you have to cut off their supply of fighters they get from other countries. Those are all pieces of a larger puzzle. BLITZER: Is it your sense, right now, that if the United States can

go ahead and launch Hellfire missiles from drones against targets, Al- Shabab targets in Somalia, or against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula targets in Yemen, or against al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, or ISIS targets in Iraq, without any congressional authorization or anything along those lines, the U.S. could start doing the same thing against ISIS targets in Syria?

HARF: A couple of those places you mentioned are under the authorization for the use of military force from 2001 against al Qaeda after 9/11.

Obviously, a lot of that action has been undertaken under existing AUMF authorities. We have talked in Iraq about the fact that the Iraqi government invited us in, asked us to undertake this action. Anywhere we target terrorist organizations, we have to look at what specific authorities we have, what we need. We consult with Congress.

BLITZER: Do you have the authority in Syria do that?

HARF: We are looking at that right now. We have consulted with Congress very closely on Syria.

And as the president and the administration make additional decisions about what we will do, we will continue that consultation.

BLITZER: Marie Harf, thanks very much for joining us.

HARF: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Marie Harf is the deputy spokeswoman at the State Department.

Much more of the breaking news coming up. We're getting sharp reaction to the beheading video from Britain's prime minister, as ISIS threatens to thrill a British captive next. And how do these latest horrifying images compare to the execution of the American journalist James Foley? The search for clues and what they reveal, that's coming up.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a gruesome new ISIS video showing the beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff.

It also threatens the life of a British man being held by ISIS. British Prime Minister David Cameron had sharp reaction.

Let's go to CNN's Karl Penhaul. He's in London watching all of this.

Karl, what was the prime minister's initial reaction to all of this?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The initial reaction from Prime Minister David Cameron is that this apparent execution of Steven Sotloff is despicable and disgusting. He has promised to make a fuller statement. He indicated that would

come later tonight. Time, of course, here in London, ticking away. It is about 40 minutes still until midnight. We're interested in seeing what more he has to add about this, but of course Britain's prime interest in this up until now at least had been that apparently the executioner having a London multicultural accent, that's the way forensic experts have described that, Wolf.

BLITZER: We know that the terrorists, the ISIS terrorists, they had a specific message for President Obama in the latest video. They mentioned him a few times, but was there also a specific message for Britain?

PENHAUL: I believe that there is, because at the end of this video, that shows Steven Sotloff apparently being executed, the executioner, the man dressed in black, grabs another person by the scruff of the neck and the video suggests that his name is David Cawthorne Haines, and says underneath in parenthesis that he is British.

That gives David Cameron two problems, one, that possibly the executioner is possibly British. And we already heard about 10 days ago now from the British ambassador to the United States that the intelligence services may be close to identifying the apparent executioner, but it also gives David Cameron the second problem, that the next man that could be killed could be British, and this just as parliament has reconvened here in Britain, just as David Cameron has increased the terror threat level in Britain, and he is announcing new measures to combat radical Islam in Britain, but also at the same time that he is pledging to take action in Syria and Iraq, looking at measures possibly to arm the Kurds, possibly to help the U.S. with greater intelligence gathering so that they can bomb ISIS targets.

That gives David Cameron a whole world of worry because what he does now could have direct consequences on that British hostage, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do we know about British hostage, David Cawthorne Haines?

PENHAUL: We know nothing.

Right now, this is the first time from this video, the first time we were aware that he was being held hostage in Syria. We don't know whether he is possibly a journalist, possibly an aid worker or was there fulfilling some other function.

The Home Office here, the Interior Ministry here in Britain has given us no further information, but of course we know ISIS is holding a number of hostages, in some cases, the family or some cases government ministries have asked for no report on their situation or have simply given no information about them in an effort to try and protect them, in an effort to try and get time to get them out.

Clearly, any back door channels, any attempts at negotiation have not worked here. ISIS is now trying to kill its hostages and that obviously raises a big question. Is another military rescue attempt going to be possible? I'm sure both the U.S. and Britain must be analyzing all options right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And we don't know anything virtually about David Cawthorne Haines. Only "The Washington Post" saying he was, or he is, an aid worker in Syria and has been abducted.

All right. Karl Penhaul, thanks very, very much.

Let's continue with the breaking news. Joining us, our national security analyst Fran Townsend and our law enforcement analyst the former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes.

You were homeland security adviser to President Bush. Fran, walk us through the impact. Now not one, but two gruesome beheading videos, killing, murder of two Americans now. What is the likely impact on the president of the United States?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, obviously, Wolf, the White House is feeling additional pressure every time something like this happens.

But this should have been expected, right? Once they saw the execution of Foley and the threat against Sotloff, it was clearly unfortunately coming. But now you have the threat against a British citizen. Wolf, the colonel is quite right. What you hope is going on is military planning.

Is there the targeted intelligence that allows you the opportunity to plan a tactical military operation? But that becomes much harder because the White House did confirm there was a failed rescue attempt against Foley. And that was, you know, at the time, when the White House confirmed that, there was a lot of criticism.

And this is why, because, in this situation, where you hope they have the intelligence that will allow them do that, it becomes that much harder when you have confirmed that that is what you're doing.

BLITZER: It shouldn't take very long to confirm the video, that the video is authentic, Tom, right?


They will know very shortly. And, you know, they are going to act as if it is already authentic right now.

BLITZER: They're acting -- then the family has issued a statement, the Sotloff family, saying they are grieving.

When they look at that video -- and Tom Foreman will give us some more specifics on this shortly. But FBI forensic analysts, they have got a lot of information potentially that they could glean from the video like this, right, Tom?

FUENTES: Yes, they can.

But the problem is that even not knowing for sure, you know, how the individuals were recruited that are the killers that we see in this video, where they're at, where this is taking place, there will be so many unanswered questions, even if they get to the bottom of, yes, it was actually Sotloff that was murdered and maybe it was the same person or one of the two or three that have been identified, so-called Beatles, the three British members of ISIS who are apparently holding the Western hostages.

But the bigger problem here Wolf, is that there are always going to be journalists that will go to Syria and Iraq. There is always going to be humanitarian aid workers and medical doctors and others that are going to go. ISIS will have no shortage of Americans or British people to take hostage and behead in the future. That's going to be the biggest problem here.

BLITZER: Fran, you were the homeland security adviser, as I pointed out, to President Bush. In the last hour, I spoke to Congressman Mike McCaul. She's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. And he did say sadly that the U.S. should take steps to be ready potentially in the coming days on the anniversary of 9/11 for another major terror attack. How worried should Americans be?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, we have come to the foreign fighter problem, right? You know there are dozens, if not in the neighborhood of a hundred foreign fighters, Americans, who have gone to Syria to fight. Some percentage of those will be killed on the battlefield.

Some of them will remain there and remain in the fight. But you worry about those that will bleed out, those who may travel back through Western Europe and back to the United States. The focus, I think, right now for ISIS remains in the region. I think the near-term threat is against American and Western interests in Western Europe, which is why you see such concern on the part of the British prime minister and our European allies.

But over the long-term this is a threat to the United States. Now we don't know -- you know, al Qaeda at least, didn't used to plan attacks around an anniversary. They looked for large public gatherings, which is why we worried about the 9/11 anniversary. But when you talk to officials now, we they don't know of any intelligence indicating a direct threat targeting the anniversary, although you do worry about it.

BLITZER: And you worry, especially, Tom, you have studied this, about the individuals who may be inspired by al Qaeda. Maybe not necessarily get a direct order from Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of al Qaeda, or al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, but they read all the Web stuff and they go through it. They could be inspired to go do something.

FUENTES: That's exactly right, Wolf.

Speaking of inspire, "Inspire" magazine out of Yemen just published its 12th issue this May. And this is two years or three years after the death of Awlaki and the original publishers of "Inspire" magazine.

What we're looking at here, this is an ideology that is a pandemic. We have this on every continent, this extremist, extreme view of Islam, that are being carried out by ISIS and al Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula. Boca Haram and other groups, al Shabaab in Somalia. And the problem with this is you don't physically have to carry the germ from one of those countries to America.

The germ is an idea and the idea is sent by the Internet, and it can't be quarantined. And that's the problem. So we can have some kid sitting in the heartland of the United States, never -- never go to ISIS, but be inspired and decide "I'm going to do this all by myself, derail a train or hijack a truck and drive it into a bunch of people." Whatever it might be.

And that's the problem. We can't quarantine the idea.

BLITZER: Yes. And if you look at that "Inspire" magazine, and Tom is absolutely right. I've gone through it a little bit. They've got an article. They've published it before. They've got a variation in the new issue, "How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom." They're very clever. They've also got specific cities, like Las Vegas, that they mentioned in the latest issue of "Inspire" on the world wide web.

So Fran talk a little bit about that. How does U.S. -- U.S. homeland security, national security folks, the FBI and others deal with this threat?

TOWNSEND: Well, Wolf, you know, the self-radicalized lone wolf, if you will, the person who gets on the Internet and is inspired by this sort of ideology, is the most difficult to detect.

And look, ISIS understands the power of this, which is why you have a western English-speaking individual who's talking in both the Foley and now the Sotloff videos. They understand that the ability to radicalize over the Internet and using social media. They've got a very sophisticated social media campaign.

And what you have is FBI officials working through the joint terrorism task forces with state and local officials, looking to identify those that may be at risk. But this is the most difficult problem to identify those individuals in advance when they're not really identified with a group or talking to other individuals, which is the easiest way to identify them.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. Fran Townsend, Tom Fuentes. We'll be continuing reporting and analysis of what's going on. Much more of the breaking news.

Coming up, experts are combing through the new execution video frame by frame by frame. What could they learn by comparing it with the images of the first American beheaded by ISIS?

Plus, the impact on President Obama. He's heading to Europe right now. He's on board Air Force One heading over to Estonia. That's right next door to Russia. He's got to deal with the latest Russian moves in Ukraine.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The terror group ISIS posting a video showing the execution of a second U.S. journalist.

CNN's Tom Foreman is pouring over the new video for clues, comparing it to other video involving the brutal execution of the American journalist James Foley that occurred just two weeks ago. What are you finding, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A difficult video to watch, Wolf. Here's a frame from the new video of the apparent murder of Steven Sotloff. And here is the killing of James Foley. The terrain, the time of day, the general appearance all similar and many details are, too.

In each case victims are dressed in orange, which intelligence analysts say ISIS uses to mirror the jump suits worn by prisoners at Guantanamo. In each video, the executioner wears black, keeping his face almost entirely covered. He has a gun, and he holds a medium- sized knife in his left hand. Looks like the same knife, as best we can tell. He has the same general body build, features, gestures, demeanors.

So is this the same person? Listen to the voice in this latest video.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You, Obama, have led (ph) through your actions to the death of another American citizen. So just as you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to stab the necks of your people.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Now compare that to the voice in the murder of James Foley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their right of living safely under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people.

FOREMAN: Intelligence analysts say if it is not the same voice, at very least, the accent in both cases sound as if it comes from the London area. That suggests a possible link to dozens of radicals believed to have traveled from there to join the fight against the Syrian government.

People who were thought to be handling foreigners captured by ISIS.

PAUL GINSBERG, FORENSIC AUDIO/VIDEO EXPERT: The intelligence community will go through every inch of this, every second, analyzing the electronic impulses, the audio, the video, the speech, voice identification, geography for whatever information it can provide. As well as the production techniques and any embedded information that may be there.


FOREMAN: Each video includes a statement by the victims, critical of U.S. policy. As you can tell, but those are given under extreme duress. And just as the Foley video ended with a threat to kill Sotloff, the Sotloff video ends with the display of another captive and another implied threat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very, very chilling indeed. Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

So what will the U.S. reaction to all of this be? Let's get some more now. Joining us, our chief national correspondent, John King, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

John, we always knew ISIS, what's going on in Iraq, Syria is going to be a big issue as the NATO leaders gather this week in Wales. But now the pressure on the president has really built.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This barbaric act, Wolf, second one but this one released today, the timing, seemingly no coincidence as the president travels overseas to go to this summit. It's produced an instant political consensus here at home.

Liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans all calling on the president to act, to not be so cautious, to act quickly and to explain his policy to the American people.

Broad across the spectrum statements from politicians today.

I think the big question also is what is the audience at the NATO summit? The president is low in the polls. All of his colleagues know that, as he travels to this summit. He's viewed as a weakened U.S. president.

Can he rally their help? Can he rally them to help deal with the ISIS threat? And will he do anything in the short term -- talk to the intelligence people, the military people? The optics aren't so great. And will he do something quickly to prove he will respond? Will he ask the American people to give him time to come up with a more comprehensive strategy.

BORGER: You know, in talking to people in the administration, they would argue, as Malik (ph) just argued here before: before, is that the administration, the State Department, they've also started doing things. They are bombing ISIS.

BLITZER: In Iraq. But not in Syria.

BORGER: In Iraq but not in Syria. The question is when you talk about members of Congress, you know, privately they're telling folks at the White House, we don't really want to vote on this. They're only going to be in session a week full of days during the month of September. So it's all well and good for them to call for air strikes, but when it -- when it comes to getting congressional approval, we don't know whether the president would go to them, whether he would get their approval.

BLITZER: You heard Senator Bill Nelson, the Democrat, Democrat from Florida, saying he wants to introduce legislation authorizing air strikes.

BORGER: That's right. So he's got -- he does. But the president does have some problems with more liberal Democrats in Congress. And he also, by the way, has problems with the Europeans.

I think the president's strategy has already been, "Look, if we somehow step back, then everybody will join us in leading together." That burden sharing has never worked for him. It doesn't work. And what we're learning now is that, unless the United States take a leadership role, who will step forward?

KING: You hear some of the experts, Wolf, saying, it took ten years to decimate al Qaeda. Some of them think it will take 15 or 20 to deal with the ISIS threat. So it won't be done under this president.

They do think, No. 1, first and foremost, he owes the American people. Especially since he did say last week on the question of Syria, we don't have a strategy yet. He does owe the American people an explanation as soon as he can give that explanation.

But when you have Jean Shaheen, you actually still have some problems on the left. But a left-of-center Democrat in a tough reelection battle in New Hampshire, this is now going to play out for better or worse. It's just inevitable in the fact that we're now less than -- we are two months from today from the mid-term election.

BLITZER: To the Democrats' disadvantage.

KING: More pressure on the president. And Republicans say he's being too timid, and they will pressure the Democratic rivals in every campaign debate. Should the president do more.

BORGER: But everybody is going to stop with the boots on the ground. So everybody knows that while something -- it's easier to call for air strikes than it is to call for troops to go -- to go in somewhere.

And I think that, every Democrat is going to stop at that particular point. Boots on the ground. So that's going to be something that's going to unite the Democratic Party with the president.

But the president's ambivalence is the country's ambivalence at this point. Yet, 54 percent of the American public says he's not tough enough on foreign policy. On the other hand, I think they want him to be more flexible than he has shown and also to be more of a leader.

To John's point, when is he going to come out and speak to the American public? Not in a press conference. He's going to have a few availabilities. But in a speech to the American public about what's the threat from ISIS is to our national security?

KING: And you hear a lot of the policy people, Wolf. They say that caution might actually be well placed in the sense that there aren't a lot of good options or they need a lot more time to identify the targets in Syria. You've got to take that risk and go across the border, you need more time to identify your targets, to lay out the intelligence, to maybe put some special ops or insiders on the ground, to arrange those sustained air strikes.

Caution from a policy perspective might actually be understandable. Politically, I think it's -- especially because of some of the things the president said, and now again this just barbaric act. Politically, it hurts him.

BLITZER: I suspect ISIS, they'll score points. They'll be impressive in Syria and Iraq. But if they want to fight the United States, they're going to lose that battle. It might take a while, but they're going to lose that battle, and they're going to regret, deeply, what they're doing.

Thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, we'll have much more of the breaking news and a new video from ISIS showing the apparent beheading of a second American. So how will the Obama administration respond to the murder of Steven Sotloff?

Plus our CNN team just returned from a trip inside North Korea, where we got some rare access to the three Americans being held by the regime. Stand by for the stories behind the story. Stories they couldn't share while they were there.


BLITZER: We continue to follow the breaking news: the apparent beheading of an American Steven Sotloff by ISIS, much more on that coming up.

But, first, this urgent story we are following at the same time. We're finally getting a behind-the-scenes look at the rare interviews with three Americans detained in North Korea and restrictions that our CNN crews faced as Will Ripley travelled to North Korea.

He's now back in Beijing. He's joining us now to explain.

Take us a little bit, Will, behind the scenes. You were in Pyongyang, came as a huge surprise, this opportunity to interview these three Americans. What was it like?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, from your time in North Korea, things are very unpredictable. They can change in an instant.

And that's what happened with us. We were on a government controlled tour, much like the ones that you took when you traveled there. And we were in the middle of lunch when our handlers pulled us aside and said we needed to leave right now to head towards the capital.

So, as we were in the van, I pulled out my cell phone camera and started rolling, and this is what happened.


RIPLEY (voice-over): An abrupt detour during a trip to cover pro- wrestlers on a sports diplomacy mission to North Korea, one minute, we're on a sight-seeing tour -- the next, we're in a van, racing through the North Korean countryside. Government minders are on the phone getting instructions. There's been a change of plans.

We're told to expect an interview with a government official. When we pull up to this building, we learn who's really inside.

(on camera): Mr. Bae, Will Ripley with CNN.

(voice-over): Kenneth Bae is serving 15 years of hard labor. Pyongyang is giving us strictly controlled access to him and two other North Koreans. We get the impression this regime is looking for a line of communication with the U.S.

KENNETH BAE, AMERICAN HELD IN NORTH KOREA: I'm the only prisoner in the camp.

RIPLEY: Bae is housed separately from what Amnesty International estimates are 200,000 North Korean prisoners. The human rights group says they endure horrific conditions at six prison camps. Bae says his health is failing but his treatment is humane.

BAE: Condition in the camp is I'm working eight hours a day, six days a week.

RIPLEY: As Bae serves his sentence, Jeffrey Fowle is waiting to learn his.

JEFFREY FOWLE, AMERICAN HELD IN NORTH KOREA: I'm getting desperate, I'm getting desperate.

RIPLEY: Fowle has already confessed to leaving a bible in North Korea. His own handwritten note detailed the so-called crime.

FOWLE: It's a covert act and it violates the tourist purpose as well.

RIPLEY: That covert act of leaving a bible could cost Fowle years of freedom. Experts say religion threatens the North Korean regime. In a nation accused of widespread religious persecution, only the leaders are considered divine.

Each man is held in a different room down the same hallway. They never have contact with each other.

In this room, Matthew Miller, awaiting trial for tearing up his tourist visa and seeking asylum in North Korea.

(on camera): Why did you come here seeking asylum?

MATTHEW MILLER, AMERICAN HELD IN NORTH KOREA: During my investigation, I have discussed my motive and for the interview, it's not necessary.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Now, all he wants is help from the U.S. government.

MILLER: This interview is my final chance.

RIPLEY: A chance to return to his old life, away from the absolute isolation of being held in North Korea.

During our trip, government minders are always watching, not unexpected here. What caught us by surprise is how North Korea appears to be reaching out to the United States, using these three men to send a message.


RIPLEY: On a geopolitical scale, North Korea's not a powerful country, but, Wolf, as you know, when you're inside, the government's control is absolute. We were told we had just five minutes with each of these three men and if we went over that time or if we strayed beyond the agreed-upon topics, the consequences would be severe. They even mentioned our flight out of the country could have been in jeopardy if we broke any of the rules, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, obviously, you got nervous when you heard a threat -- even implied threat like that when they start talking about it.

I remember when I was there a few years ago, it was a very, very tense time on the Korean peninsula. There was actually fighting going on between North and South Korea, but you had a difference experience. How worried did you get?

RIPLEY: Well, when our government handlers were shaking when they delivered the news that we had somewhere very important to go, that made me very nervous because they weren't giving us any details. That's part of the reason why I took out my cell phone camera because I wanted to document whatever was going to happen. We didn't know if there was really going to be an interview or if we had perhaps done something to offend the government.

When you're inside that country, you just don't know. Everything is shrouded in secrecy.

BLITZER: It was clear to you, certainly watching your excellent interviews, Will, it was clear that all three of them, of these American prisoners, these captives there, have the same message for the U.S. government, send a high level envoy to Pyongyang, whether Bill Clinton or anyone along those lines, which is what the North Koreans want, they want attention.

RIPLEY: Yes. You know, I found it remarkable that these men -- you know, they were in separate rooms just feet away from each other but they're kept completely isolated. They've never seen each other, never spoken to each other, yet their talking points were almost identical, that they're being treated humanely, that they're in an urgent desperate situation and that they want a big name from the U.S. government to help secure their release.

I don't know if they were coached ahead of time, we were not allowed to ask. But judging by their answers, it seems very likely they had a talking to just like we did before the interviews.

BLITZER: Excellent reporting from North Korea. Will Ripley, our man on the scene -- good work. Thanks very much.

Up next: more on the apparent beheading execution of an American journalist by ISIS terrorists. More of the breaking news, straight ahead.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news: the gruesome new video apparently showing the beheading of a second American by ISIS terrorists. The journalist Steven Sotloff is seen kneeling as a masked executioner rails against the United States, speaking directly to President Obama, saying and I'm quoting now, "Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the next of your people."

The U.S. intelligence experts are working to confirm the authenticity of the video.

Spokesman for Sotloff's family says they are grieving privately. Similar video showed the beheading another journalist last month, James Foley. That video warned that Sotloff would be next. Today's video threatens the execution of a British captive at the same time.

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That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.