Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

ISIS: U.S. Consulate Was Target of Bombing; Interview with Angus King; Iraqi Forces Kill Former Deputy to Saddam Hussein; U.S. Citizens Pleads Not Guilty to Terror Charges; Leaked E-Mails Reveal How North Korea Hacked Sony; Former TSA Officer Says Groping Scandal is No Surprise. Aired 5-6:00p ET

Aired April 17, 2015 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Happening now, terror target -- a car bomb blows up outside the U.S. consulate in Northern Iraq and ISIS claims responsibility for the attack.

Is this the beginning of a new campaign against America?

American accused -- an Ohio man is charged with helping terrorists. The U.S. Justice Department says he received weapons training in Syria and returned with the goal of attacking a U.S. military base right in this country.

North Korea's hackers -- Kim Jong-un's secret cyber attack unit is widely blamed for the devastating assault on Sony Pictures. Now there's new information on how a weaponized document triggered all the damage.

What's next?

And TSA groping -- the alleged plot to pat down attractive passengers at Denver International Airport. This is just the tip of the iceberg, that according to a former officer.

What's happening at security checkpoints?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A shattering blast outside a U.S. consulate in Northern Iraq. No American personnel are hurt in the deadly bombing. But it's a calling card from ISIS, which claims responsibility, and it's a direct challenge and a threat to the United States.

ISIS is already on the move to the south, where it threatens to capture the key Iraqi city of Ramadi, sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing and the terror group has been brazenly showing off its assault on Iraq's biggest oil refinery with new pictures of fighting there.

I'll speak live this hour with Senator King of the intelligence and Armed Services Committees and our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're all standing by for complete coverage. But let's begin with CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

She has the very latest -- Elise.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. began airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, in part to protect American personnel in Erbil. Now ISIS has made clear those personnel are in their sights, as militants continue their punishing assault on Iraqi forces in the Sunni Heartland.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): A brazen attack -- detonating a car bomb outside the entrance to the American consulate in Erbil, leaving at least four dead. Images posted on social media show flames and smoke rising near the compound, home to hundreds of American diplomats and personnel.

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESWOMAN: The duck and cover protocol was activated at the U.S. consulate. All chief of mission personnel have been accounted for. There are no reports of injuries to chief of mission personnel.

LABOTT: As it continues its push through the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, ISIS released new propaganda video Friday of its militants storming a major military checkpoint connecting two key cities in Anbar. And it is waging a fierce battle in Ramadi, 70 miles from Baghdad, where fighters have seized surrounding villages and destroyed bridges to choke off the cities. Even as more than half of Ramadi's 300,000 residents fled the fighting, America's top military officer minimized the city's importance.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The city itself is -- it's not symbolic in any way. It's not been declared, you know, part of the caliphate, on one hand, or central to the future of Iraq.

LABOTT: The U.S. is dedicating more resources to the fight over the strategic town of Baiji, home to Iraq's largest oil refinery and key to denying ISIS income.

Just a day earlier, ISIS released of insurgent clashes in Baiji. The Iraq government has yet to show evidence proving its claims that today, its forces took full control of the area.

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: There will be back and forth. You will see instances where they move into retreat. But elsewhere in Iraq, you see them on the offense and ISIL, the ones in their caravans heading out.

LABOTT: Today, the Iraqi government announced its forces killed former Baathist leader Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, seen here at an Iraqi military parade in 2003. He was a deputy of Saddam Hussein later linked to ISIS. Al-Douri was the king of clubs in the deck of cards of the U.S. most wanted members of the Iraqi regime before the fall of Saddam Hussein.

(END VIDEO TAPE) LABOTT: Now, in the last 48 hours, the U.S.-led coalition has launched five attacks near the Baiji oil refinery and only two near the city of Ramadi. So you can see where their priorities are.

Tonight, Senator John McCain blasted General Dempsey for disregarding Ramadi's strategic importance, calling it an insult to the families of Americans who were killed during the previous war in Iraq, battling al Qaeda there, and a gross mischaracterization of the situation on the ground now.

Dempsey, the senator said, Wolf, is in denial.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Elise Labott reporting.

While fighting rages in much of Iraq, the Kurdish capital of Erbil has been viewed, at least until now, as relatively -- key word relatively -- safe.

[17:05:05]

Let's get some more now from our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who is joining us -- Jim, you're learning more how this attack in Erbil went down today. It was more than a lone blast -- this was a pretty sophisticated attack, wasn't it?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does sounds like that, Wolf.

Eyewitnesses talking about a few things.

One, before the car bomb went off, they report hearing a smaller explosion, perhaps another IED, perhaps a diversion. Then you have the car bomb. And eyewitnesses report gunfire in the streets there for more than an hour. A Kurdish security official talking about as many as eight gunmen possibly being involved in this.

Keep in mind, a very secure area in the city to carry off something like that, a real achievement for ISIS.

BLITZER: And it's pretty ominous it happened exactly where it did happen. And it obviously could have been a whole lot worse.

But walk us through what we know.

SCIUTTO: Well, here's the thing. Look at this way. Here's Baghdad. Here's Erbil up here, the capital of the Kurdish area. It's about 200 miles.

Erbil in the Kurdish-controlled areas. It's really its own country. I've traveled there a number of times. It's got pricey real estate, very intense security by Kurdish forces. It looks very different from a -- for instance, from the capital, Baghdad. It's been relatively at peace.

And that's why, early on in the U.S. operations here, when ISIS was advancing across country, they actually moved diplomatic personnel from Baghdad to Erbil, because the impression was it was safer. So to carry out an attack in the center of the city is a real rarity there. It shows that they were able to penetrate those Kurdish defenses. And it really shows that ISIS is able to show its strength in more areas than when you look at the map here that we traditionally think as under ISIS control -- those are the red areas -- or under ISIS influence here in the yellow areas, or the (INAUDIBLE) to project them up here into the Kurdish areas, that's a real change. It's a real sign of danger.

BLITZER: And it's a calling card to the U.S. -- get ready. At least that's the message ISIS is trying to send.

Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now.

Joining us, Senator Angus King. He's the Independent senator from Maine.

He's as member of both the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

What's your analysis?

What's your take?

I assume you've been briefed on this ISIS attack near the U.S. consulate in Erbil.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, first we -- we have to say that we don't have final confirmation that it was ISIS. I think if anything bad happens anywhere, they claim credit. It probably ISIS.

I think you have to look at fact that they did not breach the compound. They did not -- the security arrangements that were in place at that compound to protect Americans worked. This was a pretty sophisticated and powerful bomb. It did not -- it did not damage the compound itself or any of the Americans.

So -- so that's the good news.

The bad news is, as you guys were talking about, these people can go pretty much anywhere, at least in the Middle East. And that's -- that's one of the real problems in this war, if you will, Wolf, because it's not like you have to have an army moving into a city with lines and troops and fronts. It can be four or five people in a Jeep or a truck. And it really is very difficult to secure a major city.

Erbil has been secure. The Kurdish area is one of the more secure areas. So it just heightens the alert anywhere in that region.

On the other hand, I think we should step back and say, well, the security arrangements that the State Department and the government put in place for that compound served their purpose today.

BLITZER: But do you think they should be bracing for more attacks like these specifically, in what's called Kurdistan?

And the Kurds, as all of us know, they've been very friendly, very supportive to the US.

KING: Right. Well, you know, I don't want to try to get in the heads of these guy. But ISIS has been sort of stymied recently. They've really been limited and their momentum was seriously blunted by the coalition and by the Iraqi forces fighting back. So I think they're looking for ways to strike out in Ramadi and in Erbil, that we'll probably see more of this.

But it's clearly a kind of alternative strategy, if you will, because they weren't gaining ground like they were late last year. And they're going to be lashing out.

And that's -- again, that's the trouble with this kind of non-state actor, terrorist, a single or a few people can cause an awful lot of damage. And that's why we've got to be dealing with this.

You know, the people here in Maine say, why are we bothering with this?

And I say, I'd sure much rather fight them over there than here.

BLITZER: And let's not forget, there are hundreds of U.S. diplomats and other civilian and military personnel based at that consulate in Northern Iraq.

Senator, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she was on CNN "NEW DAY" earlier today. And she said -- and I'm quoting her now -- she said, "The U.S. is in a much stronger position than we were a year ago in the fight against ISIS."

[17:10:00]

But, you know, I'm wondering if that's accurate.

Do you agree with her, that the U.S. is in a much stronger position in the fight against ISIS today, given what's going on in Erbil, in Ramadi, where 150,000 people have been forced to flee in the last few days alone?

KING: Well, you know, I don't think we can overstate. I mean, this is -- this is going to be a long slog. I mean we started with the -- with the airstrikes. I think what she was probably referring to is that there's a broad coalition, including Muslim countries, that are now engaged in stopping these guys. And that's way ahead of where we were when the first -- when they swept through in a really lightning strike into Northern Iraq and Western -- Eastern Syria.

So I think we are ahead in terms of having the means to confront them. I don't think it's accurate to say that, you know, they're on the run or we've broken the back or, you know, to use a term that you and I remember, the light -- if we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So, you know, I guess I would try to -- I would temper my enthusiasm, curb your enthusiasm a bit...

BLITZER: Yes.

KING: -- and say, this has a long way to go and it's going to take -- it's really going to take the Iraqi government itself to be more inclusive, to bring in the Sunnis and the Kurds. And they're going to have to win this fight in the end.

BLITZER: Yes, you're referring to those optimistic briefings you and I can remember that we used to get during the Vietnam War and the body counts and how great things were going. Obviously, those assessments were not exactly accurate.

Senator McCain, John McCain, a man you know well, he blasted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, for his comments yesterday.

General Dempsey suggesting that the fight for Ramadi is important, but it's not as strategically important as winning the fight for those oil fields at Baiji.

Senator McCain saying, "Disregarding the strategic importance of Ramadi is a denial of reality and an insult to the families of hundreds of brave young American whose were kill and wounded during the surge fighting to free Ramadi from the grip of al Qaeda."

There's a lot of anger at the chairman of the Joint Chiefs for yesterday suggesting that, you know, Ramadi, there's bricks and mortar there, it's important, but what's really important are the oil fields, that oil refinery at Baiji.

What's your analysis?

KING: Well, I think that's -- I think it was unfortunate the way General Dempsey put that. It -- you know, John McCain feels very strongly about this. And I know him well. And I'm surprised he was as restrained as he was, if you can believe that.

But I think what General Dempsey was trying to say is that there are really two different situations.

Baiji is very important strategically because it's the largest oil refinery in Northern Iraq. One of the -- one of the things we have been successful with ISIS is cutting off the money. And one way we've done that is cut off their access to oil, which they were using to sell to finance what they're up to.

If they captured that refinery, it would be a huge influx of money for them.

So, strategically, it is very important. And, you know, I don't think we should get into saying which target is more important than the other. But there's no question that Baiji is a very important place. And that's got to be done.

But the same thing -- Ramadi is right out there in the middle of Anbar Province. It's not that far from Baghdad. As John McCain said, it was a place where there was a lot of fighting during the surge in the Iraq War. And it would be a blow if -- if ISIS was able to take over that community.

But this gets to the more fundamental issue, Wolf, of where are the Sunnis?

This is -- Anbar Province is a Sunni area. Ramadi is a Sunni town and -- or city.

And are the Sunnis going to feel more loyalty to Baghdad, which has, frankly, been more oriented toward the Shiites, or are they going to feel some draw toward ISIS?

And that's how this thing is ultimately going to be decided. If Baghdad can't form links to the Sunnis. It isn't going to work for anybody.

BLITZER: Well, it...

KING: And that's really a bit of what's going on behind the scenes.

BLITZER: And you're absolutely right, if the Iraqi military is MIA in Ramadi, where there are so many Sunnis, if they don't see the Iraqi military going in there to protect their own people, those Sunnis are going to have -- they don't have much confidence in the Shiite-led government in Baghdad now. But it's going to be even a whole lot worse.

Senator, stand by.

We have much more to discuss, including the apparent killing of a top Saddam Hussein loyalist who was apparently working with ISIS. Much more on that and a lot more coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:19:32] BLITZER: We're back with Senator Angus King. He's the independent senator from Maine, a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees.

How significant is the death of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri one of Saddam Hussein's top deputies. You remember, he was the so-called King of Clubs, among the most wanted of Saddam Hussein's aides after the war back in 2003?

KING: Well, I think the first thing we need to do, Wolf, be sure that he's dead. This is about the third time he's been reported dead. Every time, apparently, a guy with a red beard is shot over there, they suspect it may be him. We need to get the DNA and be sure that it is him.

But assuming that it is, I think this is a big deal. I mean, leadership is important. So it's a little unclear what his relationship to ISIS is. He, as you say, was a former, in the top two or three people under Saddam Hussein. He then went into hiding. He has been wanted. There's been a bounty on his head for 12 or 13 years.

He's had an off and on relationship with ISIS. He was opposed to them, said that they were opposed to them, but then there's pretty good evidence he was working cooperatively. But anybody at that level that has the knowledge of the country and the sort of infrastructure of the rebel forces, if he's been taken out, I think -- I think that could be very important.

BLITZER: What's the next U.S. move in Yemen, now that AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, arguably the greatest terror threat to the United States right now, is now controlling a major airport in southern Yemen? How concerned are you that they're going to have free reign to plot against the United States?

KING: Very. The answer is, very. There's a real power vacuum in Yemen now, and it's -- it's a full-scale civil war in reality, and then Iran is involved now. The gulf states, Saudi Arabia, are leading air strikes in that area.

In the meantime, while this civil war is going on, you've got AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which as you say is one of the most dangerous al Qaeda branches. They're the ones that have been most actively plotting against the United States. They were behind the 2009 Christmas day bombing, and they're -- they're now having free reign.

We had a good relationship with the prior Yemeni government and were able to do a lot of counterterrorism work in Yemen against AQAP, and it was very successful. But now all of that is in abeyance, while we sort of have to stand on the sidelines and watch this civil war play out.

You know, it's as if we had, you know, the north and south of the United States 150 years ago, and then all of a sudden, there's this third group that's using the power vacuum to really take advantage and make trouble.

So it's a very serious situation. I think we're trying to work with the former president. We're trying to establish some contact, but ultimately, what has to happen is that there has to be some settlement between the Houthis and the remainder of those who aren't supporters of theirs to set up a government. And then we can try to go back in and take care of AQAP.

It's a -- it's a real, it's a real dangerous situation for us as, you know, you and I seem to meet like this, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes.

KING: And it's -- it's on fire.

BLITZER: It certainly is on fire, and it's hard to believe that the president, not that long ago, was citing Yemen as a positive, as a successful operation, counterterrorism operation. I wonder if he's getting really bad intelligence information from his aides?

KING: Well...

BLITZER: Hold your thought for a moment, because we're almost out of time and I wanted to get your quick thought on what the president was really agitated today when he spoke about Loretta Lynch, the nominee to become the next attorney general of the United States. I know you support her. You want a vote. How embarrassing is it, now more than five months and there's been no roll-call vote on her?

KING: Yes. There ought to be a vote. I mean, there's just no question. And it was supposed to come right after the sex trafficking bill. Then that got hung up with a dispute about Hyde Amendment abortion language. That's tied us up for two or three weeks.

We ought to -- we ought to have it. I mean, I think the votes are there. She's an eminently qualified nominee. I haven't heard any serious objections to her from anybody. And absolutely, I think embarrassing is the right word. Let's take care of that. It would take an hour, and we could move on.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

KING: Sure. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator Angus King of Maine.

Coming up, new details on a frightening domestic terrorism case. A U.S. citizen goes to court, accused of getting terrorist training in Syria and coming home to carry out an attack.

Also, an airline passenger lands in hot water after tweeting he can hack into the plane's control system during his flight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:28:47] BLITZER: An Ohio man accused of plotting to kill Americans after training in Syria today pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he provided material support to terrorists. The U.S. Justice Department says Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, a U.S. citizen, was trained to use firearms and explosives and returned home from Syria planning to target a U.S. military facility.

Joining us now, former Congresswoman Jane Harman. She served on the Intelligence, Armed Services, Homeland Security Committees. She's now president of the Wilson Center.

CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, a former CIA official. Our national security analyst Peter Bergen, and CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer. He's a former CIA operative.

Phil, this 23-year-old man, a naturalized U.S. citizen. What's the appeal of these kinds of individuals to actually leave the United States of America, fly to Turkey, cross into Syria, train with a terrorist group and then come back to the United States with instructions to kill Americans?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, we talked about the appeal being ISIS propaganda ideology. That is you can lead a simpler life overseas that allows you to practice Islam in its purest forms.

What I'd encourage you is to look at this case and compared to other cases like the Tsarnaev brothers. That's the Boston brothers who are involved in the marathon killings. In each of these cases, you have human beings involved. You are the conduit for propaganda.

[17:30:01] A brother in this case who convinced this kid, this young man, to go over. We also we had a religious figure evidently in ISIS who persuaded him to come back home.

In almost all the cases I saw, where a youth was involved with ideology that was this sort of heinous, there's a human being involved in telling him, look, this ideology might look ugly but it's OK.

BLITZER: You know, it's not the first time. It almost happens, Bob Baer, almost every week we're hearing about more Americans who want to go train with one of the terror groups whether it is ISIS or AQAP, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, al-Nusra, or whatever. It's happening seemingly more and more, isn't it?

BAER: Yes. And I agree with Phil, Wolf. But you also have to spend a lot of time on the Internet, especially the jihadi sites and even the Arabic news, where you're taking, you know, atrocities that are, like, occurring in Syria, where Bashar al-Assad, the head of that regime is dropping chlorine bombs on civilian neighborhoods, and you're seeing these children burned.

And this every day is coming up on the Internet. So this is a great incentive for young people to -- you know, to write thing. They may go to Syria to go after the regime in Damascus, but at the end of the day they are sent back to the United States. So as long as there's conflict in the Middle East and chaos, we're going to see more and more of this, the question is when do one of these guys going to not get caught by the FBI and get through?

BLITZER: That's a good, important question.

Peter, you saw this new study from Fordham University Law School. They came up with a new study, their Center on National Security, and analyzed 25 Americans who've actually been arrested or charged with supporting ISIS. They found that among these 25, very interesting. They're all young. Majority of them are male. None of them are Arab. Most of them are converts to Islam. Do these statistics surprise you?

BERGEN: Not at all. And in fact, if you look at the cases, all of the cases after 9/11 in the United States, the ethnic profile is all over the map but the Syrian conflict is producing something different, which is, you know, there are no Syrians going over. During Somalia we saw all those American Somalis go to Somalia to train. We're not seeing Syrian Americans volunteering to fight.

We're finding people from around the country. FBI director Jim Comey said that there were cases in every state. So this is something that is appealing to people across the country, obviously not in large numbers luckily, but the profile that you describe is -- it isn't surprising. BLITZER: Jane, these people, they have -- obviously they're U.S.

citizen, they American passports. So it's easier for them to travel, to leave the country, come back to the United States. What -- and you've studied this. What can the U.S. government do to either prevent their initial travel towards, let's say, Turkey, and then on to Syria, or their return for that matter?

JANE HARMAN, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, the good news is we are identifying a number of these people. Obviously, this man in Ohio who was arrested was tracked to and from the battle zone, and that's good news. But what we need to do more of, Wolf, and no one's mentioned it yet, is get ahead of this. We've got to do counter- messaging that reaches these kids where they are reached by social media.

We know the media forms that are used. Especially Twitter. We know the pitches because we're following this closely. I know the Homeland Security Department is, and the National Counterterrorism Center is. We know the pitches that are being made. Where's our answer? And that answer should be made by government, where we can, but also by the private sector.

John Brennan, head of the CIA, has suggested that we, he, can help form some private groups that push back. If we don't do this soon, more and more kids are going to be recruited, and, yes, we will find many of them, but some will slip through, and one more point. Let's mention Yemen right now, which is falling into total chaos.

As Al Qaeda gains ground in Yemen, the bombmaker, al-Asiri, who produced all these plastic explosives, the underwear bomber's bomb and the ones that we fortunately found in the cartridges, that guy is on the loose, and if we get some of these foreign fighters there, and they're equipped with these bombs they could really blow up airlines and cause catastrophic damage.

BLITZER: Jane make as good point, though, because AQAP, it may now control an actual airport, they have a plane in Yemen.

MUDD: They do. The thing I worry about AQAP is pretty straightforward. If they can solidify their control over geography, in other words, if the fight with the Houthi's slow down and the AQAP guys say hey, let me think about broader targets, we've already seen what they will do if they have that kind of safe haven. That's come after airplanes, come after New York, come our Washington.

BLITZER: All right, guys. I want all of you to stand by. We're going to continue the breaking news. What we're watching.

Also, newly released -- newly leaked, I should say, e-mails reveal shocking details about the attack on Sony Pictures including how hackers broke into the computers of Sony's top executives.

[17:35:00] And later, we also have new disturbing allegations from a former TSA officer. He says groping scandals like the one at Denver Airport are business as usual.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Newly leaked e-mails reveal how Sony Pictures was hacked. The United States blames North Korea for the attack because of the Sony movie "The Interview" which mocked the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. He's got new details.

Brian, what have you learned.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight we're getting new insights into just how Sony might have been breached. According to a cache of Sony documents just posted on WikiLeaks, the attackers used a classic hacking technique and had been scoping around Sony's system for several weeks before the hack was publicly revealed.

[17:40:19]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Mid-October, 2014. An e-mail appearing to be from director Oliver Stone lands in the inbox of Amy Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Pictures movie division. Stone is making a film about NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The e-mail says it's an important message with a secure document. Turns out the e-mail's not from Stone, who later sends out a warning that his account was compromised.

This is what cyber sleuths call a weaponized document.

ANUP GHOSH, FOUNDER/CEO, INVINCEA INC.: We don't ultimately know if this was the e-mail that led to the breach but we know that it could have.

TODD: The purported message from Oliver Stone came more than a month before the wider Sony hack, which the FBI says was orchestrated by North Korea. These new revelations come from more than 170,000 internal e-mails from Sony Pictures Entertainment, posted by the controversial media group WikiLeaks.

It appears Amy Pascal was the victim of a so-called spear phishing attack when hackers send e-mail disguised as legitimate e-mails. Then as this simulation shows, when the recipient clicks on them, hackers invade their computers and move around.

GHOSH: All kinds of bad stuff is happening. Potential spear fish. Files are being written to disc. Listeners are being set up. All kinds of bad stuff is happening right now.

TODD (on camera): But a nation state hacking team, sophisticated, you may not see it all this stuff, right?

GHOSH: You're not going to see all this.

TODD: The WikiLeaks release shows Sony was concerned as early as June of last year about North Korean retaliation for their movie "The Interview." JAMES FRANCO, ACTOR, "THE INTERVIEW": President Kim Jong-Un.

TODD: Kim Jong-Un has a sophisticated cyber attack team called Bureau 121 and a larger cyber branch called the reconnaissance general bureau commanded by General Kim Yong-Cho, a former bodyguard for Kim's father and grandfather.

FRANK JANUZZI, THE MANSFELD FOUNDATION: They've been investing in their own cyber capabilities for the last four, five years very heavily. And they've had a couple of trial runs with attacks on South Korean media and banks two years ago.

TODD: Tonight, cyber security experts are warning the threat is far from over. North Korea, Iran, any U.S. adversary can strike even the most powerful American companies at will.

GHOSH: This happens every day. Every day corporations are being targeted by advanced adversaries using e-mails just like this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Contacted by CNN, the FBI would not comment on the WikiLeaks postings citing an ongoing investigation into the Sony hack. Representatives for Amy Pascal and Oliver Stone said they wouldn't comment. But Sony has publicly complained about the WikiLeaks postings of these exchanges saying that WikiLeaks is helping the hackers harm Sony employees -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's bring in the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes and CNN justice reporter Evan Perez.

Evan, spear phishing, that's not unnecessarily a very sophisticated attack, is it?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It isn't, Wolf. But, you know, the malware that was inside the phishing e-mail that was very sophisticated according to investigators I've talked to, and you know, the belief was that they were able to use these phishing e-mails to eventually get into a system administrator's credentials and take over their account essentially and then use that to roam around the system.

As Brian mentioned, I mean, these hackers were in there for months, probably, before they did anything.

BLITZER: Because they were just testing to see how far they could go.

(CROSSTALK)

PEREZ: They wanted to see how far they could go. They wanted to know the system. Get to know it before they did anything.

BLITZER: It makes it sound like almost all of these computer systems are vulnerable right now to these kinds of attacks? TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: They are absolutely

vulnerable and that's what all of the authorities and security officials, the FBI, have been saying for many, many years. That you need the most sophisticated security. And I think in this case they even said the most security -- sophisticated system in the world wouldn't have prevented the attack on Sony.

BLITZER: So even if you're careful in what you open, if you open a link or open an attachment that you think is from a friend of yours or whatever, you've got to be worried about that?

FUENTES: Well, because somebody else has attached something, you know, the malware to that e-mail. To that person's computer. So it's not that they're dangerous. It's just somebody got into their system using that to get into your system.

PEREZ: The scary thing is, Wolf, that we're told by the FBI, by other experts in the government in this area that if you're connected to the Internet, you're vulnerable.

BLITZER: Yes. That's very serious stuff. Tell us about this other report. The guy is flying. He's tweeting from the plane, saying that he could bring down the oxygen if he wants.

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: The FBI picks it up. Pick up the story. Tell us what happened here?

PEREZ: Well, his name is Chris Roberts. He's a consultant -- a computer -- cyber security consultant, and apparently he's been trying to draw attention to this question of whether or not you could hack an airplane. Just simply plug in underneath your seat to the electronics systems and perhaps, you know, wreak havoc with a flight that's already in progress.

[17:45:06] And he tweeted something that looks like gibberish to me but apparently was interpreted by a lot of people to mean that he might be trying to activate the oxygen system, the emergency oxygen system in this flight. So when this plane landed, he was on a flight. He landed in Syracuse. He was met by the FBI. They questioned him for several hours. Of course, he's tweeted about it since then.

The FBI doesn't find this very funny because they do believe that it constituted perhaps something of a threat, and in the end, Wolf, you know, he's getting a lot of attention. He's -- probably his cyber security business is going to get a lot well better known as a result of this -- of this hoax.

BLITZER: He was trying to draw attention to what he says, how vulnerable, you know, Boeing or Airbus, some of these aircraft, commercial airliners are. Does he have a point?

FUENTES: Yes, he did. He accomplished that. And I think that's the scary part. Especially after the Germanwings airplane crash. A lot of people were talking about well, the solution to that, to having a pilot that's insane is to have people on the ground that control the aircraft. Really? You want other people having this kind of access? So the more that becomes possible, just as well for a hacker on the ground to get into a system and crash a plane.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by because there's more coming up later as well.

Just ahead, more on the ISIS claim that it is behind a car bombing right near an important U.S. mission -- the U.S. consulate in northern Iraq. How many more Americans potentially are at risk.

Plus a former TSA officer says groping scandals like the one at Denver's airport are, in his words, business as usual.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:09] BLITZER: We're now learning new details about a story that is causing outrage and deep concern for a lot of air travelers. A former TSA employee says it's no surprise, his words, no surprise that a pair of officers at Denver International Airport were caught and fired over a plot to grope airline passengers.

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us now with more on this deeply disturbing claim.

What have you learned?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is almost impossible to believe, Wolf. This former TSA officer is saying loudly and clearly that this alleged scheme to grope airline passengers is not limited to Colorado and is not unusual. Indeed he insisted airports all over the country. Things like this are commonplace.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): TSA officers using their high-tech scanners to identify, pull aside and then grope attractive male passengers. That's what authorities say was going on at Denver International, until the two officers involved, a man and a woman, were caught and left their jobs. And if that's not enough to horrify many flyers, now comes this from "TIME" magazine.

"The bigger issue here is a systemic one, there are far too many federal hands on people's private parts in airports."

The writer is Jason Edward Harrington, a former TSA agent who insists this sort of thing happens all the time in airports everywhere. He writes, "The agent running his or her hands over you after you pass through the scanner is almost never doing it for good reason. What's more," he adds, "victims will likely never even know they were assaulted. Since so many passengers have their private parts fondled."

To be sure, Harrington has written fiery critiques of the TSA before. Notably this one called "Dear America, I Saw You Naked." He argues that full-body scanners are routinely used to let officers leer at passengers and yet they find few actual security threats.

TSA has steadily pushed back against such notions and suggests the Denver incident is an oddity. A former administrator defends officers conducting by-the-book pat-downs as well.

CHAD WOLF, FORMER TSA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: Individual passengers may still object to that and how they do that. But as long as they're doing that correctly, they're doing their job.

FOREMAN: Still, as authorities consider charges against those officers involved, the Denver story is super-charging Harrington's idea that it's difficult to tell where airport security ends and sexual assault begins these days.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Of course we reached out to Jason Harrington who wrote those provocative words. And he's so far declined to talk to us about those on air. But the Denver district attorney is talking. He says he's heard from several more passengers who think they, too, may have been groped. And if we start hearing such reports from other airports, you can just bet, Wolf, that the fury over this story will grow and grow.

BLITZER: I'm sure this is not news to the TSA. What are they doing about this?

FOREMAN: They've had complaints like this for a long time. People who were concerned about their privacy and the way they're being approached. The TSA has said for a long time now, look, this is a process of refining what we do. Moving forward, these are valid techniques for figuring out how people are being searched out there. And if they're done properly, there's nothing wrong here. They keep saying this is an isolated incident. Don't read too much into it.

But I must say, this kind of concern plays right into the worry that so many people have when they feel their space is being invaded, they feel accosted, it makes them very uncomfortable. There's going to be a long debate about this even if it's found truly be an isolating incident.

BLITZER: And if a passenger feels violated or whatever, what can that passenger do?

FOREMAN: Well, they can obviously file a complaint. They can obviously go to people who are supervisors and say I think something improper happened here. I think it went too far. And the TSA of course says it takes all those complaints seriously and investigates such matters. But it is a very sensitive issue and will continue so even after the story.

[17:55:02] BLITZER: Certainly is.

All right, Tom Foreman. Thanks very much.

Coming up, a bomb explodes right outside the United States consulate in northern Iraq. ISIS claims responsibility. Is this a start of a new campaign against America?

Plus a reserve sheriff's deputy who now faces manslaughter charges is speaking out. How does he explain his mistake of shooting a man with his gun instead of his taser?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, Americans targeted. ISIS says it's behind a suicide car bombing, causing death and destruction on the doorstep of U.S. diplomats. Do top Pentagon officials have a good handle on the threat.

[18:00:03] Enemy forces. CNN learns that National Guard troops used those words -- enemy forces -- to refer to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.