Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

New Al Qaeda Terror Threats Against U.S.; Interview with Brad Sherman; What's North Korea's Next Move?; Possible Ebola Exposure from CDC Mistake

Aired December 26, 2014 - 17:00   ET

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


BRIANNA KEILAR, HOST: Happening now, new terror threats -- why are they coming from countries that President Obama points to as examples of where his strategy against al Qaeda is working?

Emptying GITMO -- we are learning details about a new push to relocate dozens of detainees.

Will they end up right back on the battlefield?

Will North Korea retaliate, as U.S. moviegoers pack theaters and stream the new movie making fun of Kim Jong Un, how will North Korea's brutal and notoriously unpredictable leader react?

And Ebola scare -- new concerns tonight as a U.S. lab worker begins days of monitoring for possible exposure to the deadly virus.

Have we put too much trust in the CDC?

Wolf Blitzer is off.

I'm Brianna Keilar.

You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we begin with new calls for attacks on the United States. Ominously, they are coming from Islamists and al Qaeda-linked militants in countries that President Obama points to as success stories for his strategy of fighting terror by partnering with other nations.

We're also watching the situation in North Korea, as U.S. audiences pack theaters to see "The Interview," a North Korean diplomat is fuming, blasting the movie as, quote, "unpardonable mockery."

Are the angry words a prelude to dangerous actions?

Congressman Brad Sherman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is standing by.

Along with our correspondents, analysts and guests.

And we begin with the new terror threats. Here's CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Brianna.

Well, just as the al Qaeda and Islamic State are going after each other and threatening the United States, think of it as sort of a Hatfields and McCoys feud.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): In Syria, propaganda videos of ISIS' bloody violence, intimidation and killings. In Yemen, the al Qaeda affiliate puts out its new video, showing pictures of its top leader, Nasir al Wuhayshi. The two terror groups now vying for power.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: AQAP is competing with ISIS for recruits from the Arab world, for attention in the global jihadist community.

STARR: And the U.S. may be in the crosshairs as the rivalry grows.

CRUICKSHANK: I don't think there's any doubt that if ISIS decides to, they have the ability to launch a major terrorist attack on Western soil. This is a group with up to 1,000 Western recruits.

STARR: And al Qaeda in Yemen posting a new edition of its magazine, again calling for attacks on the West, and complete with updated instructions, yet again, on making explosives, the type of instructions that inspired the Boston Marathon bomb attack.

The chaos in controlling al Qaeda in Yemen made more difficult after a senior Yemeni intelligence official was kidnapped by an anti- government rebel group. Working with Yemen's intelligence agency vital to President Obama's policy of supporting fragile allies.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This strategy of taking out terrorists who threat us while supporting partners on the front lines is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.

STARR: But in Somalia, another sign the al Qaeda-linked group there, known as Al-Shabab, still on the attack, claiming responsibility for an assault on a military base in Mogadishu, saying it was their revenge for a U.S. airstrike killing their leader, Ahmed Godane, in September.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: Now all of these groups have expressed a desire to attack the United States. And the group in Yemen and in Syria and Iraq have the bomb making capability to do it. The only question may be when and if they make their move -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

And I want to get more now on this terror threat and the U.S. strategy against al Qaeda's affiliates.

Joining me now in THE SITUATION ROOM, Democratic Representative Brad Sherman.

He is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, Happy Holidays and thank you so much for joining us.

REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D-CA), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Good to be with you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Why hasn't the U.S. had more success as it tries to target, certainly, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and also ISIS?

SHERMAN: I think we've had tremendous success compared to the Iraq invasion, which cost the lives of 4,000 American soldiers and many, many more thousands wounded, etc. This is a problem that needs to be managed.

If you judge success by, have you solved the problem, is there nobody threatening the United States, then you'll always say that we've failed in our policy.

But we were able to roll back ISIS when it was threatening Baghdad, when it was threatening the Mosul Dam, when it was threatening the Haditha Dam. And this is a problem that's being managed with very limited American casualties.

You compare that to some attempt to put 100,000, 200,000 troops on the ground and incur many thousands of American casualties, I think that would be the failure.

KEILAR: Do you worry, though, that -- I mean certainly, that is something that Americans are not in favor of right now, boots on the ground. But we just heard from our CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank, and he said ISIS is capable of launching a major terrorist attack on Western soil because of its huge network of recruits.

I mean is it just a matter of time?

Are you concerned that we are that vulnerable?

SHERMAN: Look, we saw Major Hassan, who just listened to -- you know, saw Internet postings and killed many of his fellow soldiers. We saw what happened in Boston.

There is no policy -- I know this is unpopular, but there's no policy that will assure Americans that there is no chance of an attack on American soil.

That being said, we can't put all attacks in the same category. We lost well over 3,000 people with -- on 9/11. That kind of attack I think we can prevent. But the idea of one or two lone wolves, one or two operatives killing several Americans, that may happen. And we cannot overreact to that fear and lose thousands of American soldiers on the ground in the Middle East because we're unwilling to accept the fact that there may be another attack the size of Boston.

KEILAR: What if it is more than one or two?

What if -- what if this trend grows, people who are inspired by ISIS?

And, in a way it's not -- it's not just how it obviously affects those who are killed and injured and their families, but it also would affect American who change the way they live their lives out of concern for an attack.

SHERMAN: That -- this is something we're going to have to deal with. And even if we totally destroyed ISIS, some other group is going to fill that physical space, that ideological space and that cyber space. There is no program that will allow you to say that no American mother is going to worry about her kids. And even beside the Middle East, we had Americans ready to see a movie on Christmas Day, and now returning to the theaters when we saw threats coming from North Korea.

So I wish that I could tell you that drunk drivers are not going to be a threat, that accidents are not going to be a threat, that ISIS, North Korea and Iran and the Shiite Hezbollah organizations are not going to be a threat.

We have to live with threats and hope that we can keep the effect on the American people, the physical effect, down to a minimum.

And if we go chasing around the world, sending hundreds of thousands of troops or asking our leaders, why can't you give us total perfect safety and why don't we mobilize in an effort to try to achieve that safety, we won't get the safety and we will get the casualties.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly 100 percent safety is unattainable as a goal.

I want to ask you about Yemen again before I let you go. The second highest ranking intelligence official in Yemen was abducted.

I wonder, how concerned should we be about Yemen falling maybe to control of terrorists, but certainly being even more of a haven for terrorists?

SHERMAN: Parts of Yemen are already a -- not only a haven for terrorists, but a haven for different groups of terrorists. You have the Shiite terrorists backed by Iran. You have al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And the divisions that you see between the Shiite, the Sunni al Qaeda and the Sunni ISIS diminishes the threat that these terrorists would pose.

But Yemen has been, in many of its areas, a haven for terrorists for the last decade.

KEILAR: Sort of a reality check we're getting there with you, Congressman. Congressman Sherman, really appreciate your time on this holiday

Friday.

Thank you.

SHERMAN: Good to be with you.

KEILAR: So given these new threats from al Qaeda-linked groups, is the president's war on terror strategy working?

Joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM, we have CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and retired Major General "Spider" Marks. We also have CNN national security analyst Bob Baer, a former CIA operative -- Bob, I'll start with you.

Why is it proving so hard for the U.S. to battle these terrorist factions?

ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the problem is that bigger and bigger parts of the Middle East are falling off the known political map. They're just, they're failed states like Yemen.

Yemen is in the middle of a civil war and there's absolutely no central government we can rely on to put on an end to this. And so you have the Sunnis in the south are moving into the hills. They're almost impossible to get to. And you've got the Shia have taken over Sana'a. And they just kidnapped the intelligence chief, the deputy intelligence chief there.

So, you know, and even in places like Mali and Somalia and the rest of it, or even Libya, of course, is much worse than all these countries, there's nobody in control. They're failed states. And they breed terrorism.

KEILAR: Yes, there's a vacuum. And it tends to be filled.

General Hertling, one of the things that we've seen here over this week, just a couple of days ago, "Inspire" came out. And for people who aren't familiar with it, and they probably have never looked at this, but it's a terrorist publication. This one 112 pages. And this is something targeting people who may be inspired by terrorists. It talks about bomb making. It highlights possible targets. It gives tips on how to bypass security.

How do you stop this?

I mean is there any way to curb something like this?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, "Inspire" has been around since July of 2010, Brianna, and it's actually given some tips to aspiring jihadists, both single source ones and the ones who they've asked to act on their own. And we've seen results with Major Hassan, as the congressman pointed out, with the two airmen who were killed in Rhein-Main Airport in Germany a few years ago, with the Boston bomber. I mean that was a direct result of a magazine article that they had called, "How To Make A Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."

This is an organization that's just trying to recruit more and more jihadists for this kind of fight. And it's ubiquitous. It's all over. And, you know, we are continuing to monitor, as "Spider" will probably tell you, being the intelligence guy that he is, we're continuing to monitor how these infect us, but it's also difficult to continue to track these organizations all over the world because they are like gangs everywhere.

KEILAR: Tell us, I guess, General Marks, what is the bigger threat here, people who might be inspired by something like "Inspire" or an attack that could be ordered from the top down?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Brianna, the bigger threat for us is the lone wolf or those that are being recruited that are probably already been recruiting and they're self-radicalized. And they've got a capability locally and they're going to act locally.

That produces, as we understand, terror. Anything that's going to come from the top down, like you might see ISIS, arguably, is a very organized terrorist organization. All of its military kit is from the Iraqi military. Most of those folks that have kind of created ISIS, its command and control, came from the former Iraqi security forces and from Saddam's military that was disbanded when we invaded in '03.

So if we were to have a threat from the top down, we would probably be able to get in front of that and be able to pick up good intelligence in advance and probably spoil that, get ahead of that activity.

What you have with a lone wolf is awfully hard to stop. And it creates terror that causes us to have conversations like this and to kind of cease normal activities. And that's the big challenge.

KEILAR: I want to ask all of you this question. We were just listening to Congressman Brad Sherman. And he was saying something that a lot of people in his party believe, which is that there shouldn't be boots on the ground and that when you're looking at sort of a cost-benefit analysis, you're better off, I guess, taking the fight, in a way, to the enemy overseas, but not in a way that you have real U.S. involvement with U.S. troops.

He's saying, you know, that's not something that he wants to see. And the sort of flip side, I guess, is a couple of attacks here domestically that are lone wolf inspired, that that's a better scenario, albeit a horrible one, than losing thousands of U.S. troops, as we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What do you think?

MARKS: Well, Brianna, let me start. And I know my two colleagues will jump in here.

What we've created and what we're seeing right now is a new normal. Our strategy is to essentially contain what we see in these ungoverned spaces, as Bob has described quite well. This is denied space. This is where we're not going to spend much time.

And if we can contain activity regardless of the degree of barbarity, in many cases, we're just going to have to say, that's truly unfortunate, but we're going to stop it where it is and what happens inside this defined space is kind of OK. We're not going to jump in there.

But what we also have to agree to is that this is going to take a long -- this is a generational fight. This is our new normal. This is going to be happening for quite some time if this is the strategy that we have accepted. And I think it is.

KEILAR: But is it just a matter, Bob, of one or two lone wolf attacks, or is this something that could balloon and really affect the way people live their lives?

BAER: I think, you know, I come down on the dark side of this. I think we're going to probably get hit at some point. There are some people that know how to make bombs that will take down airplanes, who can send networks into this country. We can't capture them all. And there's a lot, it's been said, a lot of Western Europeans in Syria fighting, learning how to make bombs.

And how long is it going to be before one of them comes here and blows something up?

And you're going to have the American people are going to say you've got to do something about this.

But I agree that this is an intergenerational conflict. And, you know, it's -- I call it the 100 Years War. I like to be pessimistic sometimes, but it's probably not too far off.

KEILAR: Is this the new normal, General Hertling?

HERTLING: I believe it is, Brianna. I'll agree with my two colleagues that we are going to see some type of attack. And it's going to frustrate the American people, and it's going to cause us to have quite a bit of anxiety.

But we're also in a fight for basic values. This is a situation where we're fighting for dignity and respect for every single individual person. We've been in these kind of conflicts before. They've been very different in World War II and World War I. But this is the kind of fight, the kind of conflict that is placing one group of individuals who believe in human values and human dignity versus another who are willing to kill people in mass slaughter situations.

So I disagree with the Congressman in thinking that we can stay home and just watch this happen. I think we have to influence this. But it's got to be with more than just military might. We have to bring in all elements of national power: diplomacy, economy, military and all the others that will help change the world for the better. KEILAR: All hands on deck for sure. General Hertling, General

Marks, Bob Baer, thanks so much for all of you. Stand by for us, because we have much more to discuss.

Still ahead, how will Kim Jong-un react now that U.S. moviegoers are packing theaters and laughing at the film that he didn't want anyone to see?

And next, details about a new push to empty out the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Will this mean that terrorists return to the battlefield?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This first executive order that we are signing, by the authority vested in me as president -- president by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, in order to effect the appropriate disposition of individuals currently detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo and promptly to close the detention facility at Guantanamo, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interest of justice, I hereby order. And we then provide the process whereby Guantanamo will be closed at no later than one year from now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: We have new details of a potentially major development in the U.S. war on terror. We just heard President Obama's words from nearly six years ago as he signed his very first executive order and made closing the Guantanamo Bay prison a top priority for his administration.

Now CNN is learning details about a renewed push to empty out the detention center there before the president leaves office. With us once again is CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who broke this story earlier today. Catch us up, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're going to empty out Guantanamo as much as they possibly can. Why hasn't it happened? Some of the detainees are in legal limbo, not enough evidence to take them to a trial, but you can't release them. Some, the president would like to put in federal prison in the United States, potentially a super max. Congress, deeply opposed to that.

So now the strategy is to empty it out by transferring as many as they can under the current process. There's two ways to do this. You either send them back to their home country after you find they're no longer a threat or you send them to a third country.

Here's the problem. We're going to see several transfers in the next several months, several before the end of the year and then several dozen more anticipated in the first half of 2015. That should clear out some of it. But there are dozens of these detainees cleared for transfer, but their home country is Yemen.

And Yemen, of course, is a country where al Qaeda is very active. They cannot send them back there. They can't find a third-party country to take them yet.

How dangerous is sending them back to Yemen? How much recidivism can we see returning to the battlefield, returning to the fight? Well, just a few months ago, the Justice Department and the State Department put something like a $5 million reward on the head of a detainee that was released, went back to Yemen and now is one of the most senior leaders in the al Qaeda organization in Yemen.

So the president has a plan. 2015 is the year he's going to try to make it happen. But it may be tough to fully end the operations at Guantanamo Bay.

KEILAR: It's a great example that really shows the perils here of sending some of these detainees back to areas that are so fertile for terrorism. And we'll be talking with our panel about that.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

Let's bring our panel back in now, our military and security experts. Retired generals Mark Hertling and Spider Marks; and former CIA operative, Bob Baer.

Bob, you have the president. He vowed to do everything he can to close Gitmo just recently. But given not just that there is a Republican-controlled Congress -- do we have sound of that?

We have sound. Let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Will Guantanamo Bay prison will closed down by the end of next year?

OBAMA: I'm going to be doing everything I can to close it. It is -- it is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values and it is wildly expensive. We're spending millions for each individual there.

And we have drawn down the population there significantly. There are a little less than 150 individuals left in this facility. We are going to continue to place those who have been cleared for release or transfer to host countries that are willing to take them. There's going to be a certain irreducible number that are going to be really hard cases, because we know they've done something wrong, and they are still dangerous. But it's difficult to mount the evidence in a traditional Article III court. And so we're going to have to rescue with that. But we need to close that facility, and I'm going to do everything I can.

CROWLEY: You want them here in a super max, right? That hasn't changed. OBAMA: I think that it does not make sense for us to spend

millions of dollars per individual when we have a way of solving this problem that's more consistent with our values.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: President Obama in an interview there with Candy Crowley. And Bob, you have, of course, a Republican-controlled Congress now. But President Obama couldn't close Gitmo when he had a Democratic-controlled Congress. Is there any way that he can get this done?

BAER: I think he can get it done. It's clear at this point he's going to go ahead with his agenda after sitting on it for six years, doing nothing, you know, not fulfilling his promises, but closing Gitmo was one of them. And it looks like he's going to do it.

The problem is that a lot of these detainees killed Americans, and they're going to have to appear before a court. There's just no way politically he can release Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of 9/11, and let him go to Yemen or someplace else. It's not going to happen. The other is that...

KEILAR: And yet -- and yet a trial for KSM was blocked before when there was talk of perhaps doing it in New York. You think we could see it happen?

BAER: I think we have to. Is there another -- we don't have a choice really. I mean, he killed 3,000 Americans. He's admitted to this. And he has to spend the rest of his life in jail.

The other ones, there's not enough evidence against. You pretty much have to release them. Why keep this facility open just for them? And yes, some of them will go on to kill Americans again or at least join a jihadist group. But it's like any other criminal justice system. You always have a bit of -- a few of them will always go back to old ways. And there's nothing you can do about it.

KEILAR: But General Hertling, how -- I wonder how we see this playing out. Who is going to say, "Yes, bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to my state"? You hear lawmakers. They talk about concerns that you can relate to. They feel like it's a security concern. They feel like it makes them perhaps a terrorist target to have this trial going on. How do we expect that that's really going to happen? Do you?

HERTLING: Well, if I could clarify a little bit, Brianna. Because some of the things Bob was saying, just put some numbers on it. There have been over 700 prisoners since Guantanamo was opened. There are only 132 there now. So both President Obama and President Bush before him have already released about 600 prisoners.

A hundred and 32 remaining. Of those, 83 of them are Yemenis. That's going to be very tough right now.

Sixty-four of those 132 are cleared for release right now. So the president is going to be able to take care of those. Thirty-six additional ones are what's called -- fallen into the

category of indefinite detention. That means they're either too dangerous to release or not enough information for trial. So those are the ones in limbo that aren't going to be able -- the president is not going to be able to deal with.

And then there are 32 who are either awaiting trial or who are going on trial soon.

So the president's promise to try and close it is a good one. But it's going to be tough. And I personally don't think he's going to be able to make it in the last two years he has in office.

KEILAR: Because the reality, General Marks, is that you can't say that many of these people pose no threat, right?

MARKS: Well, they all pose a threat. I mean, we acknowledge that recidivism with this crew is almost -- it's a guarantee. It's going to happen at some point.

The issue, I think, we all need to square with each other. Let's not talk about the price of running Gitmo as an impediment to -- as the reason or motivation to close it...

KEILAR: That it costs too much.

MARKS: That's ridiculous. It really is a chimera.

The real issue, it's a political one. And it really doesn't matter. And the third thing that the president said is this really doesn't act to inspire others or recruit others. It doesn't matter what we do in the west. There is a sufficient supply of radical Islam and terrorists out there, irrespective of what we do. There is recruitment. There is self-radicalization that's ongoing on all the time. They would kill us if we stood there and did nothing.

So the point is, is we've got a prison in Gitmo. I agree it should probably close down. Is the president going to be able to get that -- get that done in the next 24 months? That's a political discussion that needs to take place. He has a very strong ally with Senator McCain moving forward. So...

KEILAR: How much does that help when you have someone like Senator McCain, who's so often his critic?

MARKS: Of course. Yes, who spent five years in a box. Absolutely. I think Senator McCain holds a very strong position in trying to get the rest of the Republican Congress on board so this can move forward.

I think it's a good idea to close Gitmo. But let's be frank: there are bunch of folks, as Mark described, in great numbers that need to be addressed and need to be held someplace and cannot and will not -- it would be shameful if we put most of those folks back. There's a due process that has to be followed, and most of those guys need to spend their lives behind bars. KEILAR: Bob, you heard the example that Barbara Starr was

talking about. The U.S. government offering a $5 million reward for a terrorist who was released in 2006 who's now serving as a top leader for AQAP.

So this is -- this is the reality that we're dealing with here, right, when we're talking about whether to close Guantanamo Bay or not? So is it -- is it kind of just a matter of saying, you know what, this is the reality, these folks are going to go back to the battlefield but they need to be released or dealt with otherwise?

ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, General Marks is absolutely right. This -- you know, let me say this, that al Qaeda and ISIS don't really have a head. I believe these are organizations that are just split up in fractions, so many pieces, and it's just a jihadist ideology we're fighting against. And so to have one of these guys go back to Yemen and pick up a Kalashnikov is not a direct threat to the United States. Yes, he adds to the numbers but there are frankly millions of them right now.

This is an ideology that's going to take, as we've just said, years and years to crush. And it's got to be done economically, politically, diplomatically and the rest of it. We need the cooperation of Muslim leaders around the world and Muslim countries. So one of these guys getting out is just a drop in a very big bucket. And it doesn't concern me very much. Some of them will obviously go back to normal lives and give up jihad.

But there's no way to predict that over the people -- the guards at Guantanamo to tell you who's going to go bad and who's going to reform themselves.

KEILAR: It's not a very big bucket you talk about that is of so much concern.

Gentlemen, great talk. Really appreciate you being with us. General Mark Hertling, General Spider Marks and Bob Baer.

And coming up, will Kim Jong-Un take revenge now that the movie ridiculing him is packing U.S. movie theaters and streaming online?

Also a new Ebola scare. We have disturbing new details about why a U.S. lab worker is being watched for signs of the deadly virus.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Across the U.S. today, moviegoers are eagerly, often gleefully defying the wishes of one of the world's most unpredictable leaders. But as people line up at theaters or go online to watch "The Interview," diplomatic, military and security experts are wondering what Kim Jong-Un's North Korea may do to get revenge.

Let's bring in CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

What may happen, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Brianna, so far, the real drama has been at the theaters across America with film fans excited to go see the movie as almost a patriotic duty. But now people are wondering what North Korea will do. And everyone knows that studies that Kim Jong-Un will not be silent for long.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): Screenings of "The Interview" across the United States have theatrics of their own. In Los Angeles, a surprise visit from the film star and co-director.

SETH ROGEN, ACTOR, "THE INTERVIEW": We just want to say thank you. If it wasn't for theaters like this and for people like you guys, this literally would not be (EXPLETIVE DELETED) happening right now.

LABOTT: Kim Jong-Un denied involvement in the cyber attack on Sony but he still promised 9/11-style attacks if the film was released. Now that Americans are flocking to theaters and streaming it online, North Korea has been eerily quiet.

VICTOR CHA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: No sorts of threats usually a signal that they are planning something big, something in the works. It's hard for me to imagine that they won't feel the need to respond to the release of the movie and everything else that surrounded it.

LABOTT: The comic story of a god-like leader's fall from grace, a crack in the image Kim's propaganda machine has crafted of him as a confident and beloved leader. Today, a North Korean diplomat told the "Associated Press" the movie is, quote, "an unpardonable mockery of the country's sovereignty and Kim's dignity."

CHA: They want to give that impression to the world that they are strong and invincible. But beneath that is a great deal of insecurity, insecurity justifiably based on the economic situation, based on the fact that the whole political regime is built on a system of lies. So I think there's a great deal of vulnerability that's felt when they see a movie like this come out.

LABOTT: Kim has gotten support from Russia and China, both of which questioned U.S. claims he was behind the Sony hacking. Moscow called the film, quote, "aggressively scandalous." And North Korea's reaction, "very understandable." In Beijing, a call for calm and restraint. The Foreign Ministry labeling "The Interview" a, quote, "controversial movie."

But that didn't stop tens of thousands of Chinese film fans from downloading it and posting about the film on a popular movie Web site where the title was translated as "Assassinate Kim Jong-Un."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: Now the U.S. does not think a North Korean response will be limited to cyberspace. It could be in the form of another long- range missile test or even a nuclear test as North Korea continues to develop its weapons program, which is why the U.S., South Korea and Japan next week are expected to sign an intelligence-sharing agreement to better cope with those military threats -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be watching. Great report, Elise Labott. Thank you so much.

And joining us now to talk more about this, Christian Whiton, he is the former deputy special envoy for human rights in North Korea. We have Shawn Henry, a former executive assistant director of the FBI, and CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director.

First question to you, Christian. How worried should we be about a possible attack? We heard the myriad of options really that Elise just laid out.

CHRISTIAN WHITON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISER: I wouldn't be too worried about anything happening directly here in the homeland. North Korea's ability to act domestically is very, very limited. So their threats of 9/11-style attacks I think are boasting from a regime that boasts a lot. Likewise, I think we are probably seeing some of the extent of their cyber capabilities.

And it was a significant attack. You know, hundreds of millions of dollars of damage potentially, a chilling effect on the First Amendment despite the fact this movie has come out will nonetheless influence decisions made here in Hollywood.

I would expect, though, that North Korea willing -- go down the sort of predictable cycle of belligerence. You may see moves for another nuclear test. They're sort of due for one. They come every two years. There has been some activity spotted at their main test site.

And also it's not just the hubbub over this movie, North Korea was condemned in the U.N.'s Third Committee that concerns itself with human rights, the New York Committee that does, and they staged protests in Pyongyang, hundreds of thousands of people out chanting. So I think we are in for a turbulent year for -- with North Korea.

KEILAR: So, Tom, we hear Christian there saying North Korea's options here are somewhat limited and we have an idea of some of the things that they might try here. But when it comes to some sort of 9/11-style attack, not possible. But I wonder, this is one of the things I wondered from the get-go here. What about someone who's unstable who might be kind of inspired by this or seize the moment of fear? What do you think?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That could be, Brianna. But that's always the case. We have nuts in this country that can be inspired by anything, anything they see on TV, anything someone says publicly. But I don't think necessarily Kim Jong-Un is going light them up to go do something. As far as the 9/11-type attack, the missiles they've fired toward

Japan that have sputtered out of control in the Sea of Japan, they're about 8,000 miles short of being able to deliver anything to this country along the lines of a 9/11 attack.

Now the other fear is South Korea. They have hacked into their nuclear industry, into their banking industry and they're 50 miles from the border, their capital. So that's a little bit different for South Korea. But I think China will maybe slap them upside the head if they get too belligerent because China and South Korea now have become significant trading partners. And I don't think China is going to let North Korea get too far out of the box.

KEILAR: And China very interested in "The Interview," too, taking a look at it really by the droves, folks there.

One of the things we noticed, Sean, was from the get-go, you had the Obama administration pretty confident that this was North Korea behind this hack. Now you have some experts who are questioning whether you can really say that with certainty. Should we be wary of that assertion, that this is definitely North Korea behind this?

SHAWN HENRY, FORMER FBI EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Attribution is something that's very difficult often times. I can tell you, at the Crowd Strike where I am, we actually looked at the indicators that the U.S. government had put forth and we have been tracking the North Korean government for about four or five years. And we've actually linked this back -- it appears likely that it is North Korea.

You know, in this country, we put people in prison for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I think that the burden of proof will be looked at, but the U.S. government certainly believes this is tied to North Korea. And they've indicated they've done these types of attacks before.

KEILAR: What's the evidence that could be so convincing here?

HENRY: You know, the government will be looking at indicators so you're talking about IP addresses, malware, the types of tools, tactics, techniques, procedures like --

KEILAR: Like a digital fingerprint almost in a way?

HENRY: It's very similar to a physical world crime scene where you've got DNA and shell casings, you've got fingerprints. When investigators look aggregately at attacks, when you look at dozens or hundreds of attacks, you start to see commonality, and you're able to then do attribution back to a particular threat group or actor.

KEILAR: Christian, do you think that we're going to be seeing more of this kind of cyber warfare?

WHITON: Unfortunately, yes, especially because, you know, that we've vowed a proportional attack. But there hasn't one -- hasn't been one yet, no counterattack, no real cost. And I'm afraid we're going to have another situation where months go by, maybe a few companies and people with no real exposure to the West get put on a sanctions list, maybe North Korea goes back on the terrorist sponsor list, ought to, in fact they should have never been taken off in 2008.

But I'm afraid they're not going to see a real deterrence develop. U.S. Cyber Command will remain mostly defensive, will remain mostly focused on defending U.S. government systems, rather than going on the offense and deterring future cyber attacks. So unfortunately from North Korea, from China, from Iran and from other groups, Russia, we're going to see more of this.

KEILAR: It's the new frontier.

All right, thank you so much, Christian, Shawn and Tom, appreciate you being with us.

Next, the new Ebola scare in the U.S. A lab technician being monitored for signs of the deadly virus after a mistake by the CDC.

And in our next hour, we take you to New York where police face new threats even as they mourn fallen officers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: There are new and urgent questions about safety after a mistake at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They have exposed a technician to the deadly Ebola virus.

CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns has the details.

John, this is kind of I would say unbelievable, but we've seen this happen before.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Brianna. The CDC is at the forefront of U.S. efforts to fight lethal diseases like Ebola. But a misstep is once again raising questions about the center's handle on what is a very delicate task.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): It's a potentially deadly mistake at the U.S. institution that handles some of the world's most dangerous biological materials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that a small amount of material possibly containing live Ebola virus was mistakenly transferred from one of the facility's most secured labs to a lab not equipped to handle the virus. So far the technician has no symptoms of the illness, no quarantine. But the lab tech will be watched for the standard 21 days as a precaution.

It's the kind of mistake CDC Director Tom Frieden said he was determined to avoid repeating earlier this year.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, CDC DIRECTOR: What we're seeing is a pattern that we missed and the pattern is an insufficient culture of safety.

JOHNS: At that time, Frieden was on the hot seat addressing laboratory lapses handling Anthrax bacteria and the Avian flu. CDC put tough new controls in place.

FRIEDEN: These were unacceptable events. They should have never happened.

JOHNS: In line with the new procedures following the latest incident, the lab was closed depending review and decontaminated. The material was destroyed. An investigation was launched. The incident was reported to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and others up and down the chain of command.

As for the possibility of anyone else coming into contact with the material, CDC says a handful of others who entered the lab have been contacted. They will be assessed for possible exposure. But only the one technician is being monitored. The CDC does not believe anyone outside the lab could have been exposed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: As of this afternoon, CDC tells CNN the lab technician is still showing no sign of symptoms. The laboratory has been working on a project to determine how long the virus remains viable on a dead person because so many people in Africa contract Ebola after handling a body -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Such important work. But really a mistake here.

Joe Johns, thanks for your report.

Let's get more now on this developing story from our experts on disease prevention. We have CNN medical analyst Dr. Seema Yasmin and Gavin McGregor-Skinner of Penn State University.

So, Gavin, so far this technician is OK. But there's a window here for monitoring the health of this technician. How concerned should we be that he or she might contract Ebola?

GAVIN MCGREGOR-SKINNER, PUBLIC HEALTH PREPAREDNESS EXPERT: We should not be concerned that the laboratory technician is going to actually contract Ebola, because Ebola is still a very difficult disease to get. You have to get it into your eyes, your nose, or your mouth. Having worked with many Ebola patients in West Africa, I've had very close contact with it and so people on my team, we don't have Ebola.

But the real concern we have here is this mistake, this lack of management, the lack of quality, the lack of a safety system in place. And that's really what we should be focusing on.

KEILAR: And you have essentially, right, Dr. Yasmin, you have these rooms, different labs that are different levels of security and something like Ebola is supposed to be in a lab that has the highest security. It's sort of someone who took this technician, took a sample and moved it to one lab and there's really no excuse for it, because all of these samples are color coded. It's almost like putting something yellow next to other things that are red.

How does that happen?

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Exactly. It happens because of human error. You know, scientists are human. They make mistakes, but that's why it's so crucial, Brianna, to have these protocols in place, to have what are known are standard operating procedures to make sure if one lab worker is overworked, if they're tried, they make a mistake. There are plans in place that prevent such a deadly mistake from happening.

And we saw this with bird flu earlier this year. That investigations had that mistake probably occurred because one scientist was overworked. So in light of that mistake having happened, in light of learning why it happened, this is really unacceptable.

KEILAR: We've seen it with bird flu, we've seen it samples of live anthrax and now we're seeing it with this one specimen of Ebola. How embarrassing, Gavin, is this for the CDC?

MCGREGOR-SKINNER: We've always believed the CDC confidently can handle any extremely dangerous pathogen. And we've seen it, especially this year. Again, we were very grateful and confident that the CDC has given us this transparency. They've told the truth.

KEILAR: Yes.

MCGREGOR-SKINNER: That there's been a mistake made. But what we're lacking is what we've seen in other industry, the chemical industry, the nuclear facility industries, they have systems in place such as the U.S. Chemical Board for Safety, the safety board, the Chemical Safety Board is -- goes through Congress. It's -- the president picks the executive board. It's approved by Congress.

They go out and they investigate chemical incidents throughout the country. We don't have anything like that for biological incidents or accidents. And this is what we need.

KEILAR: And you -- I mean, you have to give the CDC credit at least for the reporting here. I believe this happened Monday. It was discovered on Tuesday within an hour it had been reported. So that's important. But is the -- we're hearing Gavin say there's not enough oversight when it comes to this. What can be done?

YASMIN: We need to have oversight. The CDC gave us some assurances based on the previous mistakes made with bird flu and anthrax. They said they'd go over the protocols. They said that all staff would be trained appropriately. And they said that the appoint person at the CDC -- they kind of have that really important oversight. Some of those steps have been taken, so it's -- we need more answers as to why this has happened and it's not just CDC, Brianna, there was a mistake at the NIH earlier this year where there's decades old vials of smallpox were discovered so it's other (INAUDIBLE) laboratories. That's why it's a wide problem.

KEILAR: That's right. That was an unbelievable example. I wonder if this is a question of leadership. Dr. Frieden leads the CDC. He's been overseeing an organization as we've been these mistakes. And including when it came to how Ebola was treated and really the protocols that were given to health workers to deal with the Ebola threat. Does he need to go?

MCGREGOR-SKINNER: Well, that's not for us to decide on. But you're right, it's a matter of leadership. It's a matter of management. And the senior management in these labs have to ensure that all the laboratory workers are compliant. Not just with the regulations but also the standard operating procedures and Seema, you know, rightly stated. But also there is a second set of eyes.

Now if there was a second of eyes in this situation, you would have noticed that the colors of the tubes were incorrect for the appropriateness of your lab and you would have corrected that situation before there was a possible exposure. That didn't happen and again that oversight is not there.

KEILAR: It's also a question of resources and support. So CDC has a budget. The work they're doing every year just increases. We're seeing more epidemics, we're seeing deadlier virus, and we're seeing more people get sick, and the battles that they're fighting get bigger and their resources aren't going up in line with that.

KEILAR: Maybe they do need that buddy system, though.

Gavin, thank you so much. Dr. Yasmin, appreciate both of you being with us.

And ahead in our next hour, new doubts about whether North Korea is behind those cyber attacks on Sony Pictures.

Also New York Police out in force to pay tribute to a fallen officer and cracking down on new threats against other officers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Happening now, police threatened as officers gather to mourn a murdered colleague. The NYPD is poring over hundreds of threats against police and making arrests.

North Korea's next move. Will Kim Jong-Un fire back now that "The Interview" is on screen?