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THE SITUATION ROOM

Protest Plan to "Shut Down" Shopping District; Mayor Visits Memorial Site for Slain Officers; Interview with George Pataki; Protestors Gather Despite Mayor's Call for Pause; Sony to Release 'The Interview' in Indie Theaters; Homeland Security to Americans: Be Vigilant; New CNN Poll Shows Jump in Obama Approval

Aired December 23, 2014 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, protests planned despite an urgent plea for New York's mayor for a time-out after the murders of two police officers. Activists are vowing to turn out this hour for another demonstration against police violence.

Rising tensions -- the former New York governor, George Pataki, all but blames the mayor for creating a climate for the murders, calling them "an outcome of an anti-cop rhetoric."

I'll speak to the governor live.

And a stunner from Sony -- the controversial film mocking North Korea's leader will open on Christmas Day after all, despite cyber threats. Why President Obama is already applauding.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news

BLITZER: We're following two breaking stories this hour.

New York is on edge, as marchers vow to protest police violence despite appeals from the city's mayor to set aside such demonstrations until the funerals have taken place for those two murdered police officers. The White House says Vice President Biden will attend this Saturday's funeral for one of the officers, Rafael Ramos.

Mayor Bill de Blasio under a lot of fire right now for criticizing police, today visited the memorial site for the officers who were shot dead in their patrol car by a man who later took his own life.

Police have boosted security as they continue to investigate threats posted on social media.

And a stunning turnabout by Sony Pictures, which will now allow its controversial new comedy, "The Interview," to be shown in some theaters Christmas Day. The film mocks Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his regime. His regime has blamed -- has been blamed for a massive cyber attack on Sony's studios. The White House says President Obama applauds Sony's new action, which comes a week after it canceled the film's Christmas release.

The former New York governor, George Pataki, is standing by live, along with Congressman Brad Sherman of California, our correspondents, our analysts and our guests.

But let's get the very latest from CNN's Miguel Marquez.

He's in New York City -- Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Look, this is the area where protesters are now gathering. There's only about 50 or 60 protesters and this is their target. That is Fifth Avenue. That is shopping central this time of the year. And I want to show you what the protesters looks like so far. There's about 50, perhaps 60 or 70 now. They've been gathering for the last 30 minutes or so.

What they say they want to do is speak power to the administration here in New York. They say they want the police commissioner, Bratton, to step down. They say that they will be respectful, but they will be animated and perhaps not as angry as in previous days, but they do say they're going to walk down the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue, not obstructing traffic.

There are a lot of police officers here at the moment. And they say they're on a wait and see mode. They want to see how the protesters react. They want to see what they do today. And they will then react to them. So it is a very, very tense afternoon here in New York -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So they've rejected the appeal from the New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, to at least halt these demonstrations until after the funerals of these two police officers, right?

MARQUEZ: They say that the mayor should not be giving in to those sort of calls. They say that the protests and what happened to those two police officers, as unfortunate as it is, are two different situations and they should not be lumped together. They say that Bratton and that the police unions, in using the deaths of those two police officers this way, should stop their rhetoric and should step down from their positions. And they said they are not going to give up. At this point, they are calling for a winter of resistance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any ugly rhetoric?

We've heard a tiny number of some of the protesters in recent days have a lot of ugly rhetoric toward police officers.

Are you seeing any of that right now over there on Fifth Avenue?

MARQUEZ: We are not. I've covered a lot of these protests in recent -- in the recent weeks and there was a lot of hateful, angry chanting toward police officers who were walking right alongside the protesters. At the moment, they have the same signs that they've had in others, that they want an end to racist policing, that they want justice. And some of this has spread out to economics, as well. The 1 one percenters, or the Occupy Wall Street folks are here, as well. That message is being portrayed here.

But at the moment, there's none of the chanting, none of the signs that we've seen in previous protests -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll check back with you, Miguel Marquez in New York City.

While tensions are running high, there was a pause in the harsh rhetoric surrounding the murders of those two police officers, as New York's mayor visited a memorial site and later led a moment of silence.

Let's go to CNN's Martin Savidge.

He's on the scene for us in Brooklyn.

What's the latest, Martin, over there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this memorial site continues to grow in size and continues to grow in meaning to the people of Brooklyn and all of New York. It has been visited today by many, many people. You mentioned the mayor of New York here with his wife. There have been police officers here that have come in large groups. And then there have been members of the public. There's also been representatives and members of the family of one of the fallen officers, Officer Ramos.

So this continues to be the touchstone.

We should point out that also today, at 2:47 p.m., here and in city hall in New York and a number of other sites, they observed a moment of silence. That was, of course, exactly three days to that moment of when the shots were fired that killed the two officers on this specific site.

Tonight, the mayor is saying that they are asking for public buildings and also for landmarks to dim their lights at 9:00, again out of the respect for the officers.

So many calls coming for healing, for reflection. And despite what you've heard of the divide between police and the mayor's office, publicly, they're trying -- at least the mayor is trying, in many ways, to bridge that gap at a time when many on the street fear it could still be very wide in private -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Martin, what are they saying about the decision by the vice president, Joe Biden, to come to that funeral on Saturday and pay his respect, obviously on behalf of the Obama administration?

SAVIDGE: Well, it shows, of course, that this -- well, the tragedy that happened here, why it may have happened goes well beyond just New York City and Brooklyn. The fact that the vice president is coming. Officer Ramos' funeral on Saturday is expected to be a major event, in which many, many people will want to participate. Funeral plans for the other officer, Officer Liu, have not been announced as yet. But you can imagine emotions will be very high -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Martin. Thanks very much.

And New York's former Republican governor, George Pataki, has joined police union officials in slamming the mayor, Bill de Blasio, accusing him of putting officers' lives at risk by supporting recent protests.

The former governor is joining us now live.

Governor Pataki, thanks very much for joining us.

GEORGE PATAKI (R), FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you remember a time when things were this bad in New York City?

PATAKI: Yes, I do, but it hasn't been in over 40 years. But, in fact, the last time that police were assassinated was over 40 years ago. And at that point, there had been, for some time, this racial divide in the city, this divide between the police and particularly African-American communities.

But we haven't seen anything like it in generations, literally. And I don't think this happens in a vacuum. I think it happened because over the last few years, there's been a concerted effort to demonize the New York Police Department, the best police department in America, the best trained police department anywhere and one that had made enormous strides to making the city the safest largest city in America, at tremendous risk to themselves.

So we should be applauding this great police department. And they should not have been demonizing it the way it happened over the last two years.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers live pictures from this demonstration on Fifth Avenue, Governor.

You created quite a stir with a Tweet you did the other day. And I'll put it up on the screen. You wrote, "Sickened by these barbaric acts which, sadly, are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of Eric Holder and Mayor De Blasio, #nypd."

This was right after the killing of those two police officers.

Do you stand by that statement?

PATAKI: Absolutely, Wolf. I'm not going to apologize for having the police's back. I've been to too many police funerals. I saw their carriage running into the buildings on September 11th. And as I said, this didn't happen in a vacuum. Before the Eric Garner decision, there had been a tremendous effort to demonize this police department as a racist department. It started a couple of years ago. And it continued, particularly through the Democratic primary in 2013, when every candidate was trying to get Reverend Al Sharpton on their side.

And every one of them came out against policing tactics that have made this city safe. They -- and in particular, they went after Commissioner Ray Kelly, who was one of the finest police commissioners this city ever had.

And, ironically, it's Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly that turned New York City's police department into a department that is majority minority.

And yet despite that, and despite the tremendous success and tremendous goodwill in the community, for political reasons, they were demonized over the last couple of years. And this climate of divisiveness, this climate that the police -- you can't trust, as opposed to they're there to protect us, is what I believe had created this climate where this horrible, horrible attack occurred.

BLITZER: Well, what specifically did Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States, say or do that created this climate being -- and resulted in the deaths of these two police officers?

PATAKI: Wolf, let me give you one example. Back in 2007 or 2008, there was a lawsuit brought against the NYPD accusing it of racist tactics and profiling in some of its police tactics. That lawsuit went nowhere.

But then Eric Holder, right before a decision was going to be made, entered into that suit, sued the police department on the part of the Justice Department, the United States government, asking for a federal monitor of the New York Police Department because of their racist tactics. And that legitimized the political challenges that had been made against the NYPD.

I think that was a horrible move. I think if Eric Holder wanted to investigate a police department, take a look at Chicago, where weekend after weekend, there were double digit murders on the South Side of African-Americans, and not this police department, which is the finest in America, a majority minority, and where its efforts over the last decades have saved thousands of lives.

BLITZER: But you specifically mentioned in that Tweet "divisive or divisive anti-cop rhetoric."

Is there a speech, a statement that Eric Holder made that created this climate that resulted...

PATAKI: The act...

BLITZER: -- in the deaths of these police officers?

PATAKI: The act -- well, I don't want to say that climate resulted in the death. The death of these police officers was the act of one horrible human being.

But it came out of this climate. And as Commissioner Bratton himself said, it was "a direct spin-off" -- that's a quote -- of the demonstrations.

And when you have demonstrators who feel comfortable saying "What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!" -- and not a handful, hundreds of them, and this mayor refers to them as peaceful demonstrations, I think it sends the wrong message.

Wolf, let me say, Mayor de Blasio today, in visiting that site and calling for the moment of silence and asking for the demonstrations to halt during this time of mourning, has done the right thing. And he should be commended for that.

And I'm not going to criticize him simply when -- because he's the mayor.

I'm going to criticize him when I think he did the wrong thing. And I think he did, in meeting with the leaders of demonstrations calling for the death of cops and not with the head of the police unions.

BLITZER: But let me play a clip.

This is the former mayor, Rudy Giuliani, on CNN.

I'm going to play this and then I want to discuss with you, Governor.

PATAKI: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: When you start doing this stuff that the mayor is doing, that the president is doing, that the attorney general is doing, they are -- they are perpetuating a myth that there is systemic police brutality. There is systemic crime. There is occasional police brutality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with the former mayor?

PATAKI: -- I -- I completely agree. And, Wolf, by the way, if you look back two years, I don't think there's an institution in America held in greater esteem than the NYPD, with good reason.

BLITZER: Well, and I just want to be precise, because we're getting a lot of reaction. You referred to anti-cop rhetoric of Eric Holder and Mayor de Blasio.

Was there a statement, a speech, a phrase, something they said that created this climate of -- this anti-cop climate?

PATAKI: I just mentioned the lawsuit that Eric Holder brought accusing the NYPD of racial profiling in its tactics and demanding a federal monitor over the NYPD. The best trained, most successful in America. That is an act that occurred. I think it's really unfortunate that mayor de Blasio talked about centuries of racism in the NYPD. I think we should have heard from both of them, and from President Obama, during the course of the last year, some commendation for the tremendous sacrifices our police officers make. The fact that in any given year, over 100 of them are killed in the line of duty.

Where was that support until today? It should have been there. There should have been a balance in the rhetoric. It didn't exist with the president. It didn't exist with the attorney general nor with the mayor.

BLITZER: Are you at all concerned that that Tweet that you had -- and it's getting, as I said, a lot of reaction out there, it's very accusatory -- could cause even more division between the NYPD and the mayor?

PATAKI: No, I don't think so. The NYPD clearly is emotionally shocked by this. And the split between the mayor and the NYPD occurred before this horrible, horrible attack.

But they're professionals and they're going to do the right thing for this city. Commissioner Bratton is a great commissioner. They will rally behind the city.

I believe the people of New York will rally behind the PD. And we're going to see, despite the horrible divisiveness of the last year or two, New Yorkers come together.

BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to Patrick Lynch.

He's head of the police union in New York.

I'm going to play the clip for you, Governor, and then we'll get your reaction.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK LYNCH, HEAD OF NEW YORK POLICE UNION: There's blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protests that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. That blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Should he have said that?

PATAKI: I -- in retrospect, I don't think he should have said it, but it was a very emotional moment. Patrick Lynch is the head of the police officers' union. He has sons who are police officers. When you see this happen for the first time in over 40 years, you're going to react and I think, in this case, Pat reacted emotionally. If he had to take that back, I wouldn't be surprised if he did.

But on the other hand, I don't think any of us should apologize for -- for being highly critical of the effort of the last two years, I believe largely for political reasons, to demonize the best police department in America.

BLITZER: Should those police officers have turned their backs on a sitting mayor in New York? PATAKI: You know, I can't put myself in a position of a police

officer who's been under enormous strain. And by the way, I spoke with police officers before this horrible attack who told me that there were credible threats against all of them. Threats where they were going to be followed home from their station houses to their homes and attacked there. So they've been under enormous pressure. And then this act actually occurred, this assassination.

So they reacted at that moment emotionally, and I can't put myself in their shoes, but I can say today that I have no doubt they're going to come together, regardless of whether or not they love the mayor or not. They're going to listen to the commissioner. They're going to protect the people of this city, and they're going to do what they have always done, is risk their lives to provide for the safety of every single person in this city.

BLITZER: Governor, I want you to stand by. I've got some more questions for you. We'll take a quick break, resume the conversation right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're taking a look at these live pictures on Fifth Avenue in New York City. It's not a huge protest, but there are protesters out there. We heard from Miguel Marquez, our reporter on the scene. Maybe 50 or 70 protestors, ignoring the appeal from the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, to stop the protests until the funerals of the two police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

We'll continue to monitor these protests and see what's going on.

In the meantime, let's bring New York's former Republican governor, George Pataki. He's been very critical of the mayor.

Do you agree with those -- and there are some pretty harsh critics out there, who think this mayor should resign?

PATAKI: No, I don't think so. I think, as I said, what he's done today is completely right, what he's done. And asking for a halt to these demonstrations during the time of mourning is correct. He has obviously grave issues with the police department, but they are professional; they will work for this mayor. He was elected.

I think he should apologize. I think he should apologize for not standing up for the police and for leading with those demonstrators and not condemning them. Before this horrible assassinations, the people going out on the street and saying, "What do we want?" "Dead cops." I think he should apologize, but I don't think he should resign.

BLITZER: In terms of an apology, give us a sentence or two. What would you like him to say?

PATAKI: What I'd say is, "We have the finest police department in America. We're proud of them. While we're always going to do everything we can to make sure that they respect the human rights of every single New Yorker, we regret the fact that a climate has been created where hundreds of people feel it's appropriate to call for their physical injury. That's wrong. We have a great police department, and I stand with them."

BLITZER: Quick question on politics while I have you, Governor. You thinking about running for the Republican presidential nomination?

PATAKI: You know, Wolf, this is a terrible time to be talking about politics. We haven't even had the funerals yet of those two police officers. I will talk about that, you know, once this period is over.

And I just hope now that we can all look forward, come together, understand that we have so much more in common in this city, in this state, in this country and try to stop this effort to divide and demonize that sadly created this climate against the police here in New York.

BLITZER: All right. Governor Pataki, thanks very much for joining us. After the funerals, after a cooling-off period, we'll continue our conversation and talk about politics a little bit. Our viewers will want to know what your plans are. Thanks very much for joining us and merry Christmas.

PATAKI: Thank you, Wolf. And Merry Christmas, happy new year, happy Hanukah.

BLITZER: Thank you so much.

Up next, a defiant change of heart by executives at Sony Pictures. They're releasing their controversial movie, "The Interview," after all. How will North Korea react? We're covering all sides of the breaking news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A huge about-face by Sony Pictures. It is now releasing "The Interview" on Christmas day after all. That's the controversial comedy about North Korea. It will be played in a limited release at independent theaters around the United States. Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is watching for reaction from North Korea. What are you picking up, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Obama has said he welcomes the decision by Sony to reverse course and release the film. The question now is: will North Korea retaliate after threatening merciless consequences for the U.S. if the film was released. And whether Kim Jong-un will be motivated by embarrassment at the film, which demeans him. Or does he have larger interests at play?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): Kim Jong-un portrays himself as a man of the people, a revered leader depicted as inspiring such adoration, his public cries at the very sight of him.

His cyberattack against Sony dismissed by the U.S. as a North Korean slight by an insecure leader.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie.

LABOTT: But those who study Kim say the hacking was not just an attempt to quash a film that ridiculed him. It was also a calculated move to cement his grip on power, showing his people he will stand up to America.

JOE WILL, EDITOR, 38 NORTH: They feel that we feel that he's weak, he's not decisive. And so this is another piece of that puzzle to them. It's part of a pattern of testing their leader, and that strikes at the very core of the system. So they are going to respond in a very harsh way.

LABOTT: The film, "The Interview," portraying Kim's assassination, may be a comedy, but its portrayal of an irrational and dangerous leader is an image North Korea watchers say Kim has deliberately cultivated with fiery rhetoric, nuclear tests and attacks against South Korea.

Joe Detrani (ph) tracked him since his teenage years as a North Korea expert at the CIA.

JOE DETRANI, NORTH KOREA EXPERT: I think that element of -- of unpredictability is part of a psyche that says, "I'm someone you have to deal with and, believe me, I have capabilities that, despite the fact that we're a small country, have capabilities that you have to address."

LABOTT: Inside North Korea, the carefully-crafted perception the country is locked in a state of war with South Korea, the U.S. and its allies allows Kim Jong-un to continue the country's isolation and maintain absolute rule.

DETRAIN: In many ways, the very attention from some of the economic hardships that people have to live through in North Korea, but they're saying militarily they're strong, and we're independent, and nobody is going to mess with us in that regard.

So, yes, I do agree, having that element of an external enemy is important for domestic control.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: And the U.S. says it is still considering its response against North Korea for the cyberattack on Sony. Officials are being very coy about whether the U.S. was responsible for the latest disruptions in the North Korean Internet. Whatever the measures are the U.S. takes, officials say they do expect some kind of counter response from Kim Jong-un, an effort to show that he is in control both at home and abroad, Wolf.

BLITZER: Elise Labott, thanks very much. With us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, our CNN political commentator,

Peter Beinart; our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes -- He's a former assistant director of the FBI -- and our senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, the host of CNN's RELIABLE SOURCES.

Brian, what gives here? Why did Sony all of a sudden change their mind? I take it they started calling some of these independent theaters around 11 p.m. last night, saying if you want to run the film, go ahead?

BRIAN STELTER, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": And at least one of them thought it was a prank at first, but it was very real; and they finalized the plans this morning. This is a show of defiance from Sony. Days after backing away from the film, postponing plans for its release, they have decided to send a message that this film will not be suppressed.

They're working with independent theater owners, not the big chains like AMC and Regal, but independent owners who have raised their hands and said, "We want to show this movie." We don't know exactly how many have signed up yet, because literally, Sony right now is making a list of which theaters they are going to send the hard drives to. And these days, movies don't get delivered on big film reels. They get delivered on hard drives. So those hard drives are going to be mailed overnight to these theaters so they can show it on Christmas day.

I think when it's all said and done, we're going to see dozens of states, maybe even hundreds of movie theaters, but not many hundreds, maybe 1 or 200 theaters, that will show this movie on Christmas day.

BLITZER: I assume a lot of people who want to go see it, Tom, you're a former FBI assistant director. Is it safe for people to go to these movies?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think it's as safe as it ever is. I mean, you know, we've had people go into movie theaters and shoot everybody in sight, having nothing to do with politics like this, but just being a deranged person. So I mean, to the extent that it's safe to go in any private (Ph) situation, I think it is a threat from North Korea. I don't -- I don't buy it.

BLITZER: I spoke to the owner of one of the independent movie theaters in Atlanta earlier today. And he didn't want to go into specifics, but he did say they would take some extra security precautions. He didn't want to say if they would be metal detectors or anything along those lines, but there would be some heightened security, which I assume you agree would be smart?

FUENTES: Yes, I think it would be smart. But I still believe it's safe to go.

BLITZER: And the fear -- Brian, let me bring you back into this conversation. The fear that these -- whoever hacked Sony to begin with, they could go ahead and really do more damage to them, are they worried about that? STELTER: That is definitely the concern. Last week the hackers sent

a threatening message to Sony and said, "you did the right thing by pulling this movie. if you ever decide to release it," the way Sony is deciding to do now, "we will release more of your classified, confidential information. All of your secrets, all of your e-mails, all of your budgets, that kind of thing, we will leak it onto the Internet." So as if enough damage hasn't been done already by those leaks, the hackers have threatened to do more.

But like I said, there is defiance here from Sony. A source just said to me the number of theaters that are on board is encouraging, and they are feeling pretty good about the support they're getting from theater owners.

BLITZER: See how many theaters. Actually, good.

Peter, did the criticism the other day from President Obama that Sony made a mistake, do you believe that played a role in this new reversal?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: One has to believe it did.

You know, this reminds me a lot of what happened many years ago with Salman Rushdie's book. The first response when, you know, the Iranian regime said they were going to put the spotlight on his life was this response to distance themselves because people were afraid.

But then the second response was a certain kind of shame about the initial response. You know what? "The New York Times," I remember, had an editorial which said something like, "On second thought, courage."

And I think that Obama has helped that process along. I think once people had time to absorb the magnitude and potential ramifications of giving in to North Korea's behavior, assuming it is North Korea, I think people began to realize it was actually important to not give in.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Brian?

STELTER: I do. I think that the notion that these digital hackers could cause a physical threat to movie theaters is so far-fetched and that we have to be able to live with a certain amount of acceptable risk in the same way that we get in the car and go to the movie theater and we run the risk of getting into a car accident, we have to accept that there is a certain amount of risk every day, and that that's something that we should absorb not just as a country but also as individuals.

BLITZER: Where does the process stand -- the prospect stand, Brian, that this film will be released online?

STELTER: That's the next story, and that's the one I'm really interested in now, Wolf, because Sony has been trying for days to sign up some sort of partner that will help put the movie online. Because at the same time that you can watch it in the theater, you can also watch it via the Internet, through some sort of rental service.

Apple's iTunes store lets you do this. YouTube lets you rent movies online now. Comcast and Time Warner Cable and Charter and all the rest of them, the cable operators let you do that.

So far, Sony does not have a partner that they've announced to do that. However, I do think if they find a partner, they will announce it later tonight, because they would like to have that happen on Christmas, so that if people are sitting at home with their family on Christmas day, they could just go ahead and rent the movie for 10 bucks or something and watch it from home.

BLITZER: Peter, a lot of North Korea experts say what worries the North Korean regime is that this film will be leaked, if you will; DVDs will be sent into North Korea; they will show that Kim Jong-un is being made fun of, he['s being laughed at; and this would be a serious problem for the North Koreans. I assume that eventually will happen?

BEINART: Yes. And I think that's a real concern from their point of view. I mean, if you look at what we know about the history of the Cold War, we know that Soviet regimes and regimes in eastern Europe tried to clear the information bubble in which they could convince their citizens that things were great in those countries, far better than the rest of the world.

North Korea has had a more impenetrable information bubble than any country on earth. The political ramifications of North Koreans realizing how destitute they are compared to other countries around the world and to realize that the rest of the world sees their leader as not only a barbaric dictator but as a buffoon actually is, I think, genuinely politically threatening in an environment where you're trying to maintain absolute control. And I think that's part of the reason that it's so important to try to penetrate that information bubble.

BLITZER: Peter Beinart, thanks very much. Tom Fuentes, as usual, thanks to you. And Brian Stelter, a CNN senior media correspondent, the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES"; airs Sunday mornings here on CNN, 11 a.m. Eastern. Guys, thanks very much.

We're also following reports that North Korea's Internet, which crashed completely a day ago, resumed sporadic service today.

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into how North Koreans, especially the nation's elite, are affected by all of this.

What are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the outages have hit North Korea's elite harder than anyone in the country. Tonight, we have new details on the Internet system, who's got access to it and how their young leader uses it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): As the U.S. and North Korea face off over a devastating cyberattack, most North Korean citizens are cut off and isolated.

(on camera): If you ask the average North Korean citizen about the Internet, would he or she know what you're talking about?

KATY OH, INSTITUTE FOR DEFENSE ANALYSIS: Ordinary people in the mountainside, countryside, in the valley far away from Pyongyang, they do not have any idea about what Internet is about.

TODD (voice-over): Only the elites have access to the Internet. There are just over 1,000 I.P. addresses in the entire country. Compare that to 1.5 billion I.P. addresses across the U.S.

Experts say if you're in North Korea and on the Internet, it doesn't seem any slower or more primitive.

MARTYN WILLIAMS, NORTHKOREATECH.ORG: It looks the same as the Internet that you or I might be able to access. The difference there is that the North Koreans are very good at self-censorship.

TODD: Meaning, they know what websites they're not supposed to visit. Analysts say for a wider group of North Koreans, there is an internal system that looks like the Internet but isn't. It's called Quangyong (ph), which means "bright light."

WILLIAMS: It's a domestic Internet, which means that it connects through universities and libraries. There are a few websites on there that mostly carry information from the government and then some scientific or sort of technical data.

TODD: But it doesn't go beyond the bounds of North Korea.

The only way the global Internet gets in and out of the country, experts say, is through a single cable routed to servers in China. So how does North Korea's leader use the Internet?

OH: There was an interesting episode that the South Korean intelligence discovered that the famous Psi, the "Gangnam Style," the famous dancing, was on the website six times. And inside Korea (UNINTELLIGIBLE), officially said he was the one who used the Internet web surfing to see the Psi site.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: How can Kim resist? Analysts say even from North Korea's elite, having extensive access to the Internet is a mixed blessing. They say often when top North Korean officials go online, every point and click is monitored by the security apparatus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. But let me ask a question before I let you go. Given what we know about North Korea's Internet system, what are you hearing about what caused the blackouts yesterday and partially today?

TODD: One analyst, Wolf, who monitors Internet traffic, Matthew Prince (ph) from CloudFlare (ph), believes there are three possible scenarios. He says the North Korean government may have pulled the plug itself; the main Chinese provider could have turned it off; or maybe individual hackers overloaded North Korea's tiny Internet tube with garbage traffic, a denial of service attack. Those are three plausible scenarios.

BLITZER: We'll continue to monitor what's going on in North Korea. Thank you. Up next, new warnings about terror attacks during the holidays.

Plus, growing concerns with air safety. How did the TSA fail to notice someone was sneaking AK-47s onto airliners?

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BLITZER: We're monitoring protesters -- looking at live pictures -- who are marching right down Fifth Avenue in New York City. They are ignoring a demand request from the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for a pause in these kinds of protests, anti-police protests until after the funerals of those two police officers killed over the weekend, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

These protesters are moving. It looks pretty peaceful right now, and we're going to continue to watch what is going on, update you as we get more.

There's other news we want to follow right now. After a series of deadly attacks by lone terrorists, Americans are now being asked to be vigilant this holiday season, at home and abroad.

Our CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been looking into what's going on.

What are you finding out, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.

In France now, hundreds of additional troops, French troops, are being deployed around that country in the wake of several attacks there. It is just the beginning of concern by so many countries about this holiday season.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Since the Sydney attack by a gunman claiming ISIS affiliation, Australia very much on edge.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: An attack is likely. We don't know when and how an attack may come but we do know that there are people with the intent and the capability to carry out further attacks.

STARR: The Sydney gunman, the latest in a series of attacks, often by people with violent criminal backgrounds and mental illness.

WILL GEDDES, INTERNATIONAL CORPORATE PROTECTION: We have to consider that ISIS is a magnet for the diluted and mentally ill who associated themselves. As soon as they put the banner of ISIS behind it, it obviously has greater repercussions in terms of the gravity of their actions that they are taking.

STARR: Security now being increased across France after three attacks in the past three days.

On Saturday, a man stabbed three police officers while allegedly shouting "god is great." On Sunday, a vehicle rammed into pedestrians, witnesses said the driver also was shouting "Allahu Akbar," "god is great".

And on Monday, a van plowed into shoppers at an outdoor market. The French prime minister warned of a terrorist threat.

MANUEL VALIS, FRENCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): It is, without a doubt, the major challenge of our times.

STARR: U.S. officials tell CNN there are no specific homeland threats this holiday season.

JEH JOHNSON, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I certainly encourage people to do what you would normally do during the holiday season, but we have to be vigilant and vigilance involves public awareness, public participation in our efforts.

STARR: But the State Department reminding Americans overseas, terrorists may be targeting hotels, shopping areas, places of worship and schools.

And the chilling reminder of a failed 2009 Christmas Day attack. For the first time, the underwear bomber Abdulmutallab, Anwar al-Awlaki, and AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi, together in Yemen before the attack.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, this year, it is ISIS that remains a very much worry along with al Qaeda, both Syria and Iraq providing a safe haven for thousands of terrorists in those countries and ISIS, of course, has pledged to try to attack the West -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thanks very much. Very disturbing information. We're going to follow up, obviously, on that.

But this is just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM, a brand-new CNN/Opinion Research poll showing a surprising jump in President Obama's job approval rating. Let's get more on the eye-opening shift. Take a look at this: 48 percent now approve of the job he's doing, 50 percent disapprove. That's four points higher than it was only a few weeks ago.

Let's get some analysis of what's going on right now, 48 percent is a lot better than the low 40s or high 30s as the president's numbers were going down. But all of a sudden, they're coming back up.

CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM. Also, once again joining us is our political commentator, Peter Beinart. Dana, this little bump that the president is getting. I'm sure he's

going to be happy about it, his political aides will be happy about it. How do we explain that?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what is most fascinating is if you look deeper into the poll, why his numbers are going up and what segments of the population.

Women, nine points in just one month. His poll numbers have gone from 44 percent up to 53 percent with women, which is kind of extraordinary. And the other segment of the population, Wolf, are the millennials, those 18 to 34, those -- that sector of the population has decided that the president is doing a better job.

So, do we know exactly why? We don't. But, you know, if you sort of take a step back and take a look at what the desire is in this country, when they look at Washington, it's for leadership and as Madeleine Albright said back in the Clinton years when you used to cover, cojones. And what President Obama has done in the last month or so, on Cuba, on immigration, and it goes -- the list goes on, whether or not you agree with him, he has shown leadership and perhaps that is what women and at least the younger people in this country who vote are responding to.

BLITZER: Peter, is that the economic numbers, which are pretty good right now? The GDP up 5 percent, they revise it for the third quarter, if you will. Jobs, 300,000 jobs being created? All of a sudden, the Dow Jones industrials above 18,000, the first time ever. It was, what, 7,000 when he took office in January of 2009.

Is that -- is that beginning to have an impact right now?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it makes sense to think the economy is playing a role, absolutely. We've had enough good news that I think it is conventional wisdom that the U.S. economy is really starting to move.

But I also want to kind of underscore what Dana was saying. President Obama and the Democrats have been hurt more politically, I think, by the gridlock in Washington than Republicans have because Democrats are the more pro-government party. They are the party that believes more in activist government. So when Democrats can't do very much, I think it disproportionately hurts them.

And by turning to executive action on immigration, on Cuba, even though it made many Republicans very, very upset, I think President Obama has found a way of breaking through that gridlock to some degree and I think Americans are responding.

BLITZER: What kind of reaction of the Republicans giving to these latest positive economic indicators?

BASH: Well, you know, the mantra from Republicans for months and months has been House speaker said so much, it has become a running joke. Where are the jobs? So, they are going to continue to press the fact that certainly people are not feeling great. If you look at again, look within the poll, the sense of the direction

of the country, which does tend to give a sense of economic anxiety, is still not great. I mean, he is still 48 percent. So, the majority of the country don't -- they don't think he is doing the right thing. But for a six-year president, it's pretty good.

The one thing I will say about these poll numbers, if you compare between Democrats and the Republicans who are going to now run Congress, Wolf, it is about the same. The country really is evenly split. Forty-nine percent say they disapprove of the way the president is handling his job, 49 percent said they disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are.

BLITZER: Yes, the country is pretty evenly divided.

So, Peter, let's talk a little bit about why the president's job approval number isn't higher than 48 percent. Forty-eight percent is a lot better than 44 percent earlier. Not that long ago, it was only 41 percent, thought he was doing a good job. But 48 percent, still not necessarily, this was way back when it was only 41 percent, the number we're showing right now. But now, it's up to 48 percent.

A lot of people say there may be a lot of jobs that were created but they're not feeling the benefit, because they're not getting the pay increases that they would have liked.

BEINART: Right. I think that's exactly right. The -- Barack Obama is probably not going to rise that much higher until people stop reading about, you know, the improving economy and the numb online and hearing about how well Wall Street is doing and start to feel it more in their own lives.

If you remember, Bill Clinton left the presidency pretty popular despite the Monica Lewinsky affair, because in the late 1990s, the job market was so tight that even people, working class people, people near the bottom economically were starting to see real wage growth. We haven't seen anything like that in the decade and a half since then. I think the fate of the last year or so of Barack Obama's presidency, politically, will depend in significant measure of whether we start to get at all back to that kind of late '90s environment.

BASH: The other thing I want to add is certainly the economy tends to be everything. But I just -- I want to go back to the concept of leadership and the concept of people doing things in Washington that maybe -- could hurt them politically. I mean, just look at what the president did as the year end press conference. He came out and was very, very strong with Sony, saying that they did the wrong thing.

I can't imagine a Barack Obama who's on the ballot or even who was worried about fellow Democrats on the ballot while he's still doing that. And that kind of thing, standing up and saying something that might not be popular with everybody, resonates.

BLITZER: It certainly does.

All right. Dana, thanks very much for that. Peter Beinart, thanks to you as well.

We're continuing to follow the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Take a look at this. These are live pictures coming in from New York. Protesters gathering there on Fifth Avenue, despite a plea from the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, for a time-out after the murders of those two police officers.

And Sony's shocking turn-about. The controversial movie mocking North Korea's leader will open here in the United States at independent theaters across the country on Christmas Day, after all. Are the chilling threats still a concern?

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