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Police on High Alert, Fear Copycat Attack; New Video Shows Gunman Hours Before Attack

Aired December 22, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT tonight breaking news, new surveillance video of the man who assassinated two New York City police officers. What he was doing in the hours before the shooting. And police nationwide on high alert for copycat attacks as authorities investigate at least 15 online threats against New York police. And North Korea's the Internet goes dark across the nation. Is this a responsible to the Sony attack? Let's go OUTFRONT.

And a good Monday evening to all of you. I'm Erin Burnett. We begin OUTFRONT tonight with breaking news. Assassination. That's what the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder tonight calls the murders of two New York City police officers this weekend. This as New York City and police departments nationwide tonight are on high alert for copycat attacks in the wake of the brutal execution. The NYPD is investigating at least 15 online threats. Also tonight new surveillance video capturing the shooter just before he went on his murderer's rampage. You are looking at 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley in a New York mall in Saturday afternoon.

Police say that white Styrofoam box that he was sort of cupping there in one arm probably holds the gun that he used to kill officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. We have more new details tonight including video on Brinsley's cellphone of a New York City protests earlier this month. Investigators say that Brinsley was a spectator on a day of nationwide protests over the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Investigators are still trying to determine Brinsley's motivation as well as what he did during those full two and a half hours before the shooting. New York's mayor asking protesters to postpone demonstrations until after the funerals for the fallen officers later this week.

Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT tonight. And how concern are police right now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are very concerned. Police calling now for a double duty. No cops alone on the streets right now. They have them in pairs. They pulled auxiliary or volunteer police off the streets because of all of this. The New York City Police Department on heightened alert now against possible other copycat killings.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): This was the scene Saturday on a Brooklyn street just moments after the brutal slaying of officers Wenjian Liu 32 and Rafael Ramos 40 as paramedics pulled the wounded officers from their car. The two men ambushed in their cruiser. Both shot in the head at close range.

BILL BRATTON, NYPD OFFICER: Today two of New York's finest were shot and killed with no warning. No provocation. They were quite simply assassinated.

Tantony Alexander (ph), a 23-year-old EMT worker was one of the first on the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: They had family. So, you don't know if he will going to go home. You don't know, you put your life on the line every day for people.

BRATTON: Saturday's tragic events began nine hours earlier some 200 miles away 5:50 a.m., 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley who had been arrested at least 19 times shoots his ex-girlfriend in her suburban Baltimore apartment wounding her but not killing her. He takes her cell phone. Baltimore County police track him that way. Brinsley then takes a bus to New York arriving 10:50 a.m. then on a subway to Brooklyn. 1:30 p.m., in Baltimore police are tipped off about a chilling Instagram post by Brinsley. "I'm putting wings on pigs today. They took one of ours. Let's take two of theirs." The Post also refers to Eric Garner and Michael Brown. 2:10 p.m., Baltimore police call the NYPD. They fax a wanted poster of Brinsley. The suspect is armed with the nine-millimeter handgun saying that he will shoot a police officer today. Please use extreme caution. New York police say they saw the fax at 2:45 p.m. shortly before the shooting.

CHIEF ROBERT K. BOYCE, NYPD CHIEF OF DETECTIVES: He asked them for their gang affiliation. He asked them to follow him on Instagram. Then he says, watch what I'm going to do.

BRATTON: At 2:48 p.m., Brinsley takes a shooter stance on the passenger side of Liu and Ramos' car firing two rounds of the two officers. He then runs to a nearby subway station and shoots and kills himself. That night, candles lit at the crime scene. Thirteen- year-old Jayden Ramos writes on Facebook, "Today is the worst day of my life. Today I had to say goodbye to my father, he was the best father I can ask for. It is horrible that someone just gets shot for being a police officer." Nearby, the bodies of the officers Liu and Ramos are taken from the hospital where they died.


BRATTON: In the funerals for those two officers will be a massive event here in New York City. Officer Ramos will be laid to rest on Saturday. The arrangements for Officer Liu are taking shape as his family are coming in from China. Until all those visas and passports are worked out, his funeral will be worked out later. And it is hope that the harsh words between the police union and the mayor's office in recent days will take a break until after those funerals -- Erin.

BURNETT: I would think that's going to be honored. Thank you very much, Miguel. And joining me now is former New York City Police Department

Officer Harry Houck. Former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente and from the U.S. marshal Matthew Fogg, good to have all of you with us. Tim, let me start with you. Do you expect more attacks on police officers?

TIM CLEMENTE, FORMER FBI COUNTERTERRORISM AGENT: I would certainly expect more. I believe the threats the NYPD are looking at are going to be more widespread throughout the country. But first, if I could just say that my thoughts and prayers go out to the Liu and Ramos families and to those officers who fell in the line of duty in such a terrible tragedy. But this kind of thing has been building since the protests. You know, obviously there are some reasonable questions about police use of force but something like this is never reasonable. This is never an alternative to a peaceful protests but these things have been gurgling up. And some of the protests especially in Ferguson, Missouri where threats against the police have been made and unfortunately it's going to make police work a lot more difficult. Not only for NYPD but a lot of other departments. I was a cop at St. Louis Metro PD before I was in the FBI. And I know my friends back there are having to double up in their squad cars and answer calls more slowly and take a little more time to analyze response before they go which is not good for the people they're trying to protect.

BURNETT: No. Of course it puts everyone at risk. Now, senior New York City law enforcement officials told CNN there are 15 online attacks, possible attacks that they are looking at now, threats. Those are ones that they're aware of.


BURNETT: I mean, this has got to be pretty terrifying for police on the streets.

HOUCK: Well, I tell you, you know, they're probably at a little more raised level than they are now. As every police officer knows, especially when they work in a city like New York. Every day they wake up it could be their last day. This is something we deal with every day. And it is in the back of your mind as a police officer. Now, officers might be a little more vigilant now because of what happened. Do I think there's going to be another attack? I'm not so sure. I sure as hell hope not. But, you know, the thing is that we have to be aware that it could happen. So everybody needs to be a little more vigilant. And I'll tell you what, what's going to happen is the police officers is going to be very wary at anybody that comes close to them with their hands in their pocket.

BURNETT: Well, right. So, Matthew, I guess that does raise the question then of now, do you have police again, and given what has just happened, very understandably, being much more quick to respond to someone. To pull out a gun. After all, what happened here is absolutely barbaric and horrific.

MATTHEW FOGG, FORMER CHIEF DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL: Erin, that's right. And my condolences go out to the family. First of all, and to those fan of those police officers that were gunned down. As we say all the time. Most officers are, you know, doing a great job for this country. The concern right now, as you write, will there be overreaction? And most of the time in my 30-year career in law enforcement, I found a lot of times when instances happen like this, there is a little overreaction. So, we're hoping that the police will understand, don't overreact. Do your job. Of course we put on the badge and the gun. We know that our lives are always in danger. At any given time, you get to be vigilant, you get somebody out there, that wants to take the police out. And that's exactly what this guy did. But he was a maniac of himself and I agree what Officer Houck just said. That the fact that, you know, officers should be a little more alert. But definitely we know when we put that badge and that gun on. This is what our job is to do.

BURNETT: Harry, is there a risk of overreaction?

HOUCK: I'm not so sure about a risk of overreaction. I think officers are going to be a lot more careful. And like I said before, I would be a little weary somebody starts walking up with their hands in their pock. I would be like sort of like back and making sure my weapon is close to me. That might happen. Will officers overreact and shoot somebody who is not armed or something like that? I don't see that happening. Because like I said, we face the threat all the time. There's a lot of crime in the city. The cops are very aware of the fact that anything could happen any time. And it is just something as usual for us.

BURNETT: You know, Tim, obviously, he had been at some protests. And that seemed to be a precipitating factor. But a person who clearly was also mentally ill. He had shot his girlfriend. He had decided to finish his day who knows how but obviously edged up killing himself at the end of the day. But you also have an ISIS inspired attack on a Sydney cafe. You've had beheadings in the United States. But what all these things have had in common is, that there was a social media footprint before it happened. Why? Is it possible now for this to be seen and identified as risks before? And if so, can we do anything about it? Hey, this person has been posting these things. Are you still helpless as law enforcement to observe them and do something?

CLEMENTE: No. I don't think we're helpless. But it depends on how far out in advance these warnings or these threats come. If this individual was within hours apparently of attacking the police, I don't know if I'm going to give pigs wings today, I think that statement came out just shortly before he attacked the officers and assassinated them. But individuals that do make threats, obviously those thing are being followed up. And we're seeing that with NYPD right now. With the 15 threats that they're looking further into. I mean, with these things prior to this event probably weren't looked at with much vigilance but it would be much more saw now. And social media is a tremendous asset for intelligence gathering. And I would imagine it's not just the state and local officers but the FBI looking at these things too.

BURNETT: And Matt, what can they do? FOGG: Well, again, they can just simply make certain that

officers know that their job is always, there's always someone that can come up and be angry with the police and take them out. And so, officers have to be aware. I mean, I did it for 30 some years and I'm sure how can others have. We understand that. We know that. But the main concern is, what position does officers take? I mean, there is this tweet going around where they show these officers with the shirt on that and says, I can breathe. Things like that, as to me, I don't know if those were officers but my point is there is a lot of rhetoric going out there right now. That just sort of heats up this whole scenario. And we're trying to calm this scenario and bring police and the community gather. And I think that's what really, I'm hoping that the depth of these officers and everyone else that has been killed in these scenarios. I hope that's what it does, it brings us together.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thanks very much to all of you. And to that point, look, there have been a lot of people who have been saying this is the protester's fault. The police union itself said the mayor had blood on his hands. UPFRONT next, the shooter and the assassination of two New York City police officers. We'll going to show you the postings on social media exactly what was so clear beforehand. That story is next. And many are asking about those protests. And the protests over the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and whether they are to blame for the shootings. Some people are doing it in public, some people are doing in it private. We're embarrassed to ask the question. We're going to ask it. We have a special panel on that. And North Korea's Internet service blacked out today. The VUS hit back with an attack of its own or not.


BURNETT: Breaking news tonight. Police are on high alert for copycat attacks three days after two New York police officers were executed in their patrol car. Also tonight, new details about the gunman who fatally ambushed them before taking his own life. Investigators found footage of a December 1st protest in New York City's union square on Ismaaiyl Brinsley's cell phone. They say that video suggests Brinsley was a spectator at that protest. And police then released this surveillance video of Brinsley walking through a shopping mall, this is on the day he executed those police. The police are telling us that they believe that that white object in his hands, which they described as sort of a Styrofoam container, they think could have held the gun, they believe it held the gun that he used to execute those police officers. They are asking that anybody who may have seen Brinsley on Saturday will come forward as they were trying desperately to piece together these two and a half hours prior to those executions.

Nick Valencia is OUTFRONT. Nick, you've been digging into Ismaaiyl Brinsley's past. What did you find?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here's what we know, Erin. A 28-years-old is now Brinsley's life was full of failure, broken relationships and plenty of run-ins with police. We also know that he did not make it past tenth grade at the New Jersey high school where he was attending. He dropped out from there started to drift. It was over the course of ten years that he was arrested at least 19 times from here and Georgia to Ohio and will beyond. Some of those police incident reports where all they read very violently. In 2013 for instance, police say he head butted his then ex-girlfriend who was five months pregnant at the time. 2011, here in Georgia, he used a stolen gun to open fire on a woman's car. He later fled that scene but was arrested and charged. We also know that he has a lengthy history of mental illness dating back to childhood according to his mother. We know that last year he attempted unsuccessfully to hang himself and by his own admission, and one of those appearances, one of those judges that he presented himself in front of a judge. He said that he spent some time in a mental health hospital to get help for his mental health illness -- Erin.

BURNETT: And Nick, with the history that you're talking about. Time in a mental health hospital. A history of violent offenses, how could he have gotten his hands on a gun? I know that is the mystery they're desperately trying to solve.

VALENCIA: Yes. That is the big question at this hour. How did he get his hands on this gun with this lengthy rap sheet? As well as his long history of mental illness. What we know about the gun is that it was purchased 20 years ago. We don't know by who but it was purchase here in a Georgia pawn shop. We don't know exactly how Brinsley got his hand on this gun. But he somehow got his hand on a weapon and he had in the past. One of these charges in this incident report was possession of a stolen weapon so that question is still unclear right now, Erin. But we hope that police will release those details in the coming days -- Erin.

BURNETT: Just awful. Twenty years ago, this gun bought. No one knows where things like that are. How many of them are out there. Thank you very much, Nick.

And OUTFRONT now, the editor-in-chief of Michael Skolnik along with criminal defense attorneys Paul Martin, Paul Callan, and Mark O'Mara.

Mark, let me start with you. There were several thousand images on Brinsley's cell phone. They found footage of the recent protest in New York City's union square park where police now described Brinsley being a spectator watching the protest. Over the past few months we've seen protesters in some cases becoming violent towards police. Are these images now are familiar? There was these sucker punch also in New York. And a week and a half ago, some of the protesters demonstrating in Manhattan were chanting, what do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now. Are these incidents, these videos responsible for the deaths of the two police officers in New York City?

MARK O'MARA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, there is definitely a cause and connection. While Brinsley may have acted on his own psychosis to do what he did in assassinating these two officers, we simply cannot deny that when we have unbridled reaction and negative reaction towards law enforcement. When we're asking for them to be killed. When we're asking, we have hash tags that say kill a cop, that it's going to have that result and I think it is incumbent upon those who are in charge of the protest to do so in respect of the first amendment. We have the right to protest. Just like you can't yell fire in a theater, you really should not be able to yell kill a cop on a street in America. And get away with it.

BURNETT: So Michael, let me go to you. You are one of the leaders of these protests. You've seen those videos. You've also been out on the streets. What do you say to Mark?

MICHAEL SKOLNIK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, GLOBALGRIND.COM: Well, I invited mark to come first of all and I brought my one -- child to the march last week, 50,000 people, not one incident or after the march is over. I think it's the greatest demonstration of our first amendment. The sickening behavior of one individual killing, murdering two police officers ten blocks from my home. That train station he went to is my train station in Fort Greene, Brooklyn is absolutely horrific. But let us not mistake that. The protest he went to was December 1st in Union Square. Eric Garner's no bill comes December 3rd. So the protests have been after he came to New York and videotaped. Whatever he videotaped. He has nothing to do what we're doing here in New York whatsoever.

O'MARA: You cannot deny that there is a connection between an unbridled response against police and the way some people, Brinsley in this case, or maybe some others tomorrow, may react to that. So, why don't we have a responsibility, when somebody is in a protest that says kill a cop, why is that person not excised out of a peaceful protest? Because I agree with you. One, we have a strong first amendment. And secondly, they are the strong exception to the rule. If you don't cull out that dangerous facet of the protests, all we have risks of throwing away the baby with the bath water to peaceful protesting?

SKOLNIK: Well, I think there have been many instances, Mark, can I invite you to join us in New York and in Ferguson as well? But we've seen -- folks who say things that we don't like. That we do remove them. But the focus here is that the police killed two black men. So let us also not forget. Let's also not forget what we just -- that we're not anti-cop. We're anti-police brutality and that's what we're fighting every single day for a more fair system in this country.

BURNETT: And that of course distinction, when you have those chance obviously, you know, that got lost on some people. I think that's very clear. Paul Callan, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani weighed in on this and he actually said it is officials, including the President of the United States, who are to blame for this. Let me just play exactly how Mr. Giuliani said it.


RUDOLPH GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: We've had four months of propaganda starting with the President that everybody should hate the police. I don't care how you want to describe it. That's what those protests are all about. The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged, the protests, even the ones that don't lead to violence. And a lot of them lead to violence all lead to a conclusion. The police are bad. The police are racist. That is completely wrong.


BURNETT: Paul Callan, what do you say to that? The current mayor of New York today actually got very heated when a reporter asked about who is to blame. He said there was 25,000 people on the street. At one protests, there wasn't a single incident. They respected the police, police respected them, that's his version of it. But you have Mayor Giuliani saying something that by the way a lot of people in this country agree with.

PAUL CALLAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, you know, they do. I think both mayors were intemperate in what they said. Giuliani is over the top today. De Blasio I think was little over the top in his rhetoric a little bit earlier which is of course angered the streets and the cops. You know what Giuliani --

BURNETT: This is when he said he had warned his son about police --


CALLAN: He had warned his son about encounters with the police.


CALLAN: That's right. And the president made similar comments himself. But I think in the end, you know, when you have high elected officials saying we can't trust the system. We can't trust what a grand jury does, what the court system does. That undermines faith and confidence in the system and ultimately what I worry about, is a kid on the street. And I'm not talking about this guy who was a nut who got ahold of a gun. I'm afraid of a kid who is being arrested legitimately and now resists arrest. Because he hears on television, of from the demonstrators, that you can stand up to the cops. Kids are going to get killed because of that bad information coming. You can fight the cops but you'd better do it in court not on the street.

BURNETT: Create a bigger cycle.

CALLAN: Yes. Right.

BURNETT: So Paul Martin, you know, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar weighed in on this today. And I thought his op-ed was very eloquently written. Whether you agree or you don't agree. One of the things he said, the marches, he was defending them and saying, this link of blaming the protesters, he doesn't believing it. "The marches are meant to raise awareness of double standards, lack of adequate police candidate screening and insufficient training that may resulted in necessary killings. Police are not under attack. Institutionalized racism is." Do you buy that? Is that why a lot of people are out on the streets?

PAUL MARTIN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Not that I buy it. It is absolutely correct. I'm a little surprised by Paul's comments regarding the attitude, or the comments of the mayor and the President. They are supposed to speak in a manner in which is truthful and honest. And maybe previous presidents didn't have this opportunity. Because they have not been stopped. Their children have not been the subject of racism. I've been shocked by the, listen, the death of these two police officers, terrible tragedy. But the attitude that racism doesn't exist in our criminal justice system, that is what's false. Mayor Giuliani isn't an idiot. I tell you that right now. He is ill informed. He is ignorant. And he is irrelevant. And trying to put himself in this position for political maneuvering is really unfortunate.

CALLAN: Well, you know what Giuliani is remembering, back in the 1970s, the Black Liberation Army targeted killings of police officers in New York City. Everybody has a real short memory for how bad things used to be in the '70s and the '80s. Giuliani is talking about how bad kit get if you lose confidence in the cops.


SKOLNIK: He ahead brutal police forceful.

MARTIN: Listen, the rhetoric in the city has to stop. It has to stop from the PBA by saying --

BURNETT: The Police Officers Union of course, saying the mayor has blood on his hands that would appear to be intemperate also.

MARTIN: But you have to understand, the rhetoric has to stop. The rhetoric regarding, there is a war. A war on who? That's going to raise another issue. The rhetoric on part of protesters who claim, kill cops has to stop. There has to be some discussion to stop what's going on in this city. And it's not going to stop until people humbled themselves and come together and discuss it.

BURNETT: And Mark O'Mara, do you agree with the defense of the president, that he should be able to say, as he's tried to say and as some people say, he's not doing it right. He's tried to day, you must respect police, you must respect their rule of law. He didn't to go Ferguson to be with the protesters. But at the same time he is said, we have an issue on our justice system, he's trying to say both things. Is he right?

O'MARA: Well, unfortunately, he is in an extraordinarily difficult position. He runs the country. And he has to acknowledge what's going on. Because there's no question we have racial disparities and biases in the criminal justice system. I've double it for 30 years. I know them. I fight against them. So, that's not the issue. The issue is how to best address it. The problem with is that we have a Mike Brown death or an Eric Garner death. It is very easy to say let's blame the other side. Let's blame the cops. My only frustration with that is, in blaming the cops, we don't get anywhere. If we're going to sit either end of the sandbox, and kicks on each other, nothing is going to happen, a guy is in trouble, who bears what responsibility of each of those killings. Because they can't just be 100 percent the cops. And if we make believe that that's true, we don't get to solution, we just maintain frustration and that is not get it from New York. CALLAN: Let's also not stereotype the cops. Because, you know,

the thing I think the demonstrators are fighting against is stereotyping African-Americans and all of minorities and assuming everybody is violent because of the color of the skin. But I think, you know, with the cops --

BURNETT: You have the same thing with the cops.

CALLAN: And let's not stereo type them either. And then, demonstrators have to remember that when they're --

BURNETT: Final words, Michael.

SKOLNIK: Again, we're anti-police brutality. Structural racism within this system that creates circumstance that leads to the death of Eric Garner, like broken windows policing that's targeting brown and black communities. Stop and frisk targeting brown and black communities. Those things that we're fighting against. The police live in our communities. The place we grew up with police. We respect police. But they have to stop, end police brutality.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to all of you. I really appreciate your time tonight. A great conversation.

And next, North Korea. The Internet service in North Korea is going down across that entire country. Is it retaliation from the U.S. or actually something much more sinister? In North Korea where a typical night of television doesn't include any political satire. It is one big reason why Kim Jong-un responded as he did to the interview. We actually have a full report from Korea, this one is incredible and it's coming up.


BURNETT: Breaking news tonight: a major development in North Korea. The country's Internet is down. That's what Doug Madory, the director of Internet analysis at Dyn Research, tells OUTFRONT. He says North Korea's network went completely dark today. This comes as North Korea threatens major attacks on America.

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT in Seoul.

And, Kyung, what can you tell us tonight?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, I want to start with what we woke up to here in Korea. If you look at this graphic, this is what happens when you try to log on to KCNA. KCNA is how North Korea talks to the outside world. It is a state-run news agency. It doesn't work. It's down. I do not recall ever a time seeing this and downed for so long.

According to Korean media reports, this problem started at about 1:00 a.m. local time while Korea slept. It is a major disruption, a major embarrassment.

So, we spoke to Dyn Research, as you say. And here's what we learned: over the last 24 hours, there was more instability, increasing instability. And then it went down hard. This is not a typical outage, according to Dyn Research.

And I want you to look at this graphic. You can see that there's this incredible period of purple. You see it is almost filling that entire graph. At the very end, that big white gap? That is the outage. It has been completely wiped off the global Internet. It's as if they don't exist.

So, it is a stunning development. It happened while Korea slept. And this is again, Erin, something we've just never seen before.

BURNETT: Which is pretty stunning in and of itself. Now, do you have any idea, Kyung, from your reporting on the source of the outage, who may have been involved?

LAH: Right now, it's almost impossible to tell. What we do know is that it does appear to be something that is happening to them, that unless suddenly they've had massive Internet failure of the likes that they've never seen before. It does seem like it's got to be something from the outside coming in. The source of it, we don't know. It does go right on the heels of when was the president said they would respond proportionally. He was thin on the details.

Is it from the United States? That's the speculation right now here in Seoul.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. Kyung Lah, live from Seoul.

She will have a special report in a few minutes, but I want to bring in our correspondent Barbara Starr from the Pentagon now.

Barbara, the timing is interesting, right? North Korea's Internet goes down as Kyung is reporting, just days after President Obama said the U.S. would respond, quote/unquote, "proportionately". Now, obviously, the Internet going down in North Korea affects very few people, but those who are in power and have authority.

Do you have any knowledge at this time as to whether the U.S. is the one causing this or not?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: We don't know. I agree with everything Kyung just said. We've asked all over Washington. Very interesting. The White House has nothing to say. The State Department has nothing to say. The Pentagon has nothing to say.

What can we take away from all that? I'm not sure we can take away much.

There's a couple of theories floating around: would the U.S. really do it and be so obvious? They would risk North Korea misinterpreting all of this and perhaps reacting very badly, adding to instability in the region. Nobody wants to see that. Could the North Koreans maybe have taken themselves offline thinking they were about to come under attack to try and to preserve their own safety, given what they did to Sony.

And another option, you hear a lot about it, could the Chinese have taken the North Koreans offline? The Chinese also don't want to see instability in the region. North Korea's Internet basically runs to China to the outside world. There would be a lot of concern about the Chinese in the aftermath of the Sony incident. But the bottom line tonight, we do not know -- Erin.

BURNETT: It's pretty amazing in this day and age to be able to just have that be the answer. I mean, it is.

All right. Barbara, thank you.

And now, our counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd, Gordon Chang, "Daily Beast" contributor and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World", and senior fellow at the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California, Mike Chinoy. He is actually in Hong Kong tonight.

OK. Great to have all of you with us.

Gordon, let me start with you. Let's just make the point. North Korea's Internet is a teeny, teeny little thing, in terms of the number of people in North Korea who are on it. But obviously for them, it is a life line. It's important to them. It's important to these hackers.

How significant is this? And who do you think is behind it?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": I think there's only one suspect and that's us. We had means, motive and opportunity and, worse, we've been talking about it on. Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest that what we might do in response to the hackers would be covert. That's exactly the same formulation that the State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said today.

You know, I think that the big important point is that there is a dog that isn't barking. And that is the hacker groups are not taking any responsibility for this. And I think if you had a jury pool from Beijing and Pyongyang, they'd be pointing their fingers to us, and that means the next 24 hours is critical, to see whether they retaliate.

BURNETT: And, Mike, let me ask you about that, because you just heard Barbara talk about the possible risks of an interpretation, because this is so public, which, you know, it sort of needs to be for the U.S. to know the world won't tolerate what it did to Sony, but at the same time, could mean North Korea ratchets this up very quickly.

So, when you put all that together, what do you think happen here?

MIKE CHINOY, SENIOR FELLOW, U.S.-CHINA INSTITUTE, UNIV. OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Well, the honest answer is we seemly don't know. It certainly seems to have come from the outside. It is possible that hackers did it. It is not inconceivable the U.S. did it. It is not totally inconceivable the North Koreans shut their own Internet down fearing an attack.

But I think the key question now is how will the North Korean government interpret what's happened, whatever the reality of where the attack came from. The North Korean standard operating procedure is tit for tat. If you punch me, we'll punch you back. And so, I think, if they do interpret this as an American directed cyber attack, we'll see some kind of response. And the danger in all this is you get into this cycle of escalation between the rhetoric and the cyberattacks which becomes very hard to manage.

BURNETT: Phil, North Korea has already threatened this weekend attacks on America. So, if they do decide or decide to say that they've decide, whatever they really think, that this came from North America, what could they do?

CHINOY: The reality --


BURNETT: Sorry. Phil, go ahead.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'm sorry. People have talked about a potential terror response. I don't see much opportunity for the North Koreans to do that. Somebody can get a weapon and shoot up a shopping mall or a film theater.

But, look, compared to the terror threat we've talked about in the past months, ISIS, you have an entity that is North Korea who has very, very limited presence in North America, and very ideological support. So, I don't know how they back up any future threats beyond escalating the cyber campaign that we've seen over the past week or so.

BURNETT: So, Gordon, President Obama was asked by Candy Crowley on her weekend show about whether this was an act of war. A crucial set of words. He answered it -- well, let me just play exactly the words he used for everyone.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I don't think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously.


BURNETT: All right. That makes some people very angry. Others say that's right. North Korea should not be taken that seriously. Is that right?

CHANG: Well, you know, we need to take it seriously, because, you know, if you go back six months ago, there were all those threats from North Korea about Sony. And, actually, Sony didn't take them seriously. Actually, Sony went to the State Department and said, don't worry about it.

BURNETT: The script for the movie, North Korea told the U.N. wasn't acceptable, right. So, there was some background to your point.

CHANG: Yes. And so, we know what happened in November. Now North Korea has come up with these other threats which sound bad, going against the White House, the Pentagon the rest of the United States mainland.

BURNETT: Can they do any of that? No. Yes, no?

CHANG: Well, you never know what the North Koreans can do because they have always surprised us. You know, over the span of eight decades, they've done a lot of things we never anticipated.

BURNETT: So, Mike, is Kim Jong-un personally calling the shots here?

CHINOY: I think he is almost certainly calling the shots, although he's got advisers around him. In terms of what the North Koreans might do, I think we might see a faster move toward a new nuclear test. Don't forget in the background to all the angst about the Sony hack, the North Koreans are moving steadily forward in developing their nuclear capability. It won't be that far off when they've miniaturized the warhead and will be able to place on it a long range missile with the capability to hit the continental United States. They're not there yet and I agree they don't have the bail to do vex physically on the ground in the States.

But absent some progress on the nuclear front, they will have that capability before too long. That's part of the other reason why this is so worrying if there's no dynamic to roll back their nuclear program, then that in the background is very, very troubling.

BURNETT: So, Phil, bottom line, do you think if this was done in the United States, the shutting down on North Korea's Internet, is that equal to what was done to Sony? After all, yes, the Internet is crucial to those in power but nobody else has access to it. And Sony, it was shut down as a company, couldn't meet payroll, had computers destroyed, you know, fizzled out.

Are these two things equal or not?

MUDD: In the sense, they are. Look, the president said proportional. I've got to believe this is an American event. I've got to believe this is cyber command. In the past, you've thought about the Army, the Navy, Air Force, Marines. Now, we have cyber warfare.

It is proportional that it is electrons for electrons. But as you said, Erin, the North Koreans shutdown Sony. We shutdown an entire country. So, yes, it's proportional because it's Internet versus Internet, but not proportional in terms of the kinds of targets that we're struck here. BURNETT: Right. That's a fair point, although there are a lot

more users at Sony than are in North Korea, but again, that's almost a separate point, and I know, not something to make light of, given what they obviously capable of doing. Thanks to all of you.

And next, the North Korean driven to cyber warfare over a movie. You know, that's at the heart of this and why some people in this country, how do you take it seriously? Well, obviously, we need to. One defector says there is a reason. Satire, simply, humor does not exist in North Korea. We have a special report from Korea.

And, we'll meet a man who got an exclusive look inside ISIS. This is the first person who has been embedded with the leadership and got out alive.


BURNETT: We continue to follow the breaking news that North Korea's Internet is down. We have questions tonight about whether the United States hacked the communist regime.

The United States says North Korea hacked Sony Pictures because of the company's controversial comedy -- well, controversial to North Korea, "The Interview." This movie follows in satire form a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un.

This weekend, on "Saturday Night Live", Mike Myers tackled this one over the damaging hack, reprising his role of Dr. Evil in Austin Powers.


MIKE MYERS: It's just so pathetic to see you two fight over a silly comedy. It's like watching two bald men fight over a comb. Who cares?

Come on, Sony, you thought it was a joke to have Frames Franco assassinate Kim Jong-un? The man single-handedly almost killed the Oscars.


BURNETT: All right. We laugh at that. But in this special report, you will see why this is not a joke for North Korea.

Our Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.


LAH (voice-over): Welcome to primetime programming on North Korea's only television station. A cartoon explaining how to bomb the enemy. To traditional dance, praising the supreme leader. This is entertainment a la North Korean regime, the rare interlude in between the news bulletin about Kim Jong-un's godlike generosity and love of his people.

To the Western world, all of this is strange. A little twisted, and certainly devoid of any humor.

(on camera): Would you have ever made fun of Kim Jong-un?

(voice-over): "I wouldn't dare", says Kim Seong-Min. "That's a path to death."

Kim knows because the defector and now anti-North Korean radio host was once a comedy writer for five years with the North Korean military. Comedy in the DPRK, you ask? Well, sort of.

(on camera): As a comedy writer, is it very dangerous what you can make jokes about?

(voice-over): "Among writers," says Kim, "the ones sent to prison or executed most often are the comedy writers."

Go too far in a punch line, it's prison time, often for the entire family. Kim says the goal of public comedy in North Korea is not to laugh but as another method to enhance loyalty to the regime.

It is little wonder North Korea fails to see the humor of this silly America movie. Satire just doesn't exist. Joking about the supreme leader and killing the character on the big screen is not metaphor but punishable by death.

Kim understands why the movie would push North Korea to launch a cyberattack. Something the regime denies doing. This former comedic writer is now in the unfunny business of reporting news from the outside world, sending it via proxies into North Korea. He doesn't joke as he reads about the global crisis surrounding "The Interview," because he wants his former homeland to understand the very serious consequences of what began as a comedy.


LAH: It bears reminding that we are in the middle of an international crisis. North Korean Internet down. We anticipate if they ever get it back up, they will respond. All of this, Erin, because of a Seth Rogen movie -- Erin.

BURNETT: And that's the thing. If you want to laugh about it and you realize this has become a very deadly serious issue of international security.

Kyung Lah, thank you, live from Seoul tonight.

And next, inside ISIS. One man actually got access to ISIS leadership -- the leadership that the U.S. intelligence hasn't been able to strike. And his takeaway is even more dangerous than we think. He is alive and we have his story.

And the Cuban spy serving a double life sentence freed last week in a prison exchange. He arrived home happily greeted by his pregnant wife. He had been away 16 years. Questions?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Tonight, new video of an American airstrike against

ISIS. The target was a truck filled with explosives. The explosives were so powerful when the U.S. missile hit the truck, as you can see, the blast momentarily blacked out the entire video.

And now, the only person to spend time with ISIS leadership to imbed and to get out alive says the group is even more dangerous than thought.

Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an extremely rare glimpse into inner workings of the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world.

German author Jurgen Todenhofer managed to visit ISIS territory, both in Iraq and in Syria.

JURGEN TODENHOFER, AUTHOR: They are only 1 percent. It's a 1 percent movement in the Islamic world. But this 1 percent movement has the power of a nuclear tsunami. It's incredible. I was so amazed. I was -- I couldn't understand this enthusiasm.

PLEITGEN: Todenhofer spent several days in Mosul, Iraq's second biggest city conquered by ISIS in June. He even visited the mosque where ISIS head Abu Bakr al Baghdadi gave a speech earlier this year.

He also met with child soldiers.

TODENHOFER: How old are you?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY (through translator): I'm 13.

PLEITGEN: Todenhofer even managed to get access to a Kurdish prisoner in the hands of the extremists.

TODENHOFER: What did they tell you what would happen to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Our captor said that we have Islamic State fighters in prison with the Kurdish regional government. You are prisoners here and we will trade you back for our fighters. They didn't say they would kill or slaughter.

PLEITGEN: Todenhofer says people living in ISIS-controlled areas are in fear of the harsh penalties for infringement of the stringent laws. But there is also a sense of order and stability. According to Todenhofer, fighters say they often manage to defeat much larger armies like the Iraqi military because they're not afraid to die.

TODENHOFER: It took you how many days to conquer Mosul?

Four days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We didn't kill 24, but we killed a score of them. So, they got terrified and ran away.

We don't retreat. We only fight and God Almighty will victor us. Those who have reverted from Islam do not have a solid ideology so they ran away. They came to fight for the tyrant, fight for money.

PLEITGEN: During battle, he learned many of the ISIS fighters wear suicide vests, willing to blow themselves up rather than be captured. In one interview, a senior ISIS fighter warns the U.S. and Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We will conquer Europe. It's not a question of us wanting, we will. We'll kill 150 million, 250 million, 500 million. We don't care about the number.

PLEITGEN: Atrocities ISIS has already committed suggests they're serious about their threats. This German's author's visit to the Islamic State shows a brutal merciless the group but one that won't go away any time soon.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Munich, Germany.


BURNETT: So many fascinating things in there, including that bearded heavy-set guy, not probably what you'd expect of ISIS leadership, but there it is.

OUTFRONT next, a freed Cuban spy went home to find his wife pregnant, and he was happy about it. The story, next.


BURNETT: A mystery solved. After serving 16 years in prison in America, Gerardo Hernandez, leader of a Cuban spy ring returned back in Cuba to a pregnant wife. And he embraced her. The reason, a source tells CNN, Hernandez's sperm was sent to Cuba, his wife underwent artificial insemination, so apparently it is his baby. The U.S. did this in exchange for better treatment for an American prisoner in Cuba. Ah, the things spies have to do.

Thanks for joining us. Anderson starts now.