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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Search For AirAsia Flight 8501 Resumes
Aired January 2, 2015 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news, the search for AirAsia flight 8501 resumed. More bodies and plane debris discovered and the search field narrowed, but still missing, the fuselage and the plane's crucial black boxes.
The crowded air space over Southeast Asia could have been a contributing factor to the crash. And more breaking news, the U.S. strikes back at North Korea. Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Jim Sciutto in again tonight for Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news. The helicopter from the USS Sampson has now just began an aerial search over the Java Sea as the search intensifies and zeros in closer to its target. Thirty bodies have now been recovered from AirAsia flight 8501 as day breaks over the Java Sea and day five of the search is set to begin. Crews from around the world are focusing their efforts on a zone that covers just over 2,000 square miles. Officials are calling that zone the most probable area in which to find the fuselage and their top priority, the plane's black boxes. Fifty nine teams of divers are ready to go but bad weather and rough seas, waves reported to be as high as 13 feet, have stalled their work.
A piece of wreckage, possibly a window panel was also found today. Of the 30 bodies recovered, just four have been identified. Among them one of the flight attendants. AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes is accompanying that body home. Writing on twitter. Quote, "I cannot describe how I feel. There are no words." The USS Sampson part of the international recovery team has recovered a dozen bodies during the search and the USS Fort Worth equipped with dive teams inside scan-sonar set to sail from Singapore Friday, although Indonesian authorities still have not formally asked the Fort Worth to join the search.
David Molko is out OUTFRONT tonight Surabaya, Indonesia.
DAVID MOLKO, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER (voice-over): For the first time recovery of actual parts of AirAsia flight 8501 brought ashore in Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia. More pieces resembling windows from the airbus A-320 but the search continues for the actual fuselage believed to be at the bottom of the Java Sea. The search area has narrowed just to over 2,000 square miles. Slightly smaller than the size of Delaware. Crews are desperately listening for a sound like this to guide them to the plane's black boxes. But weather continues to be a major factor. Visual searching nearly impossible and divers dealing with 13 foot waves. Still some remains are being recovered, including these from the U.S. Navy Ship Sampson. In Surabaya, ten bodies made their way through pouring rain in route to a hospital. Authorities are also making progress identifying the victims. One of the first flight attendant Khairunnisa Haidar Fauzi or Nisa as she was affectionately known by her family including her father Haider and mother Rohanna (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN (through a translator): Nisa is an obedient daughter. She is always tidy. She loves to learn. A lot of her friends love her.
MOLKO: Pictures from their daughter's Instagram account show a poised young woman with a giving heart, her mother said and an adventurous spirit that took her hundreds of miles away from the family home in Sumatra.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: She knew the risk but she loved this. It was her dream. She loved traveling.
MOLKO: The reflections in our interview suddenly cut short by a phone call. The call no parent ever wants to get. Leaning on Nisa's two older brothers and cousins, their smiles vanished replaced by a sense of urgency and finality. A few hours later, a solemn transfer of remains. Her parents say they've already made preparation for their daughter's burial as she begins her final journey home.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN (through a translator): Goodbye. Goodbye, Nisa.
MOLKO: A difficult day for that family and so many others here. What struck me most about Nisa's parents was their strength and resilience even in the face of such grief. Her father saying that her eldest brother wants to follow in her footsteps and wanted to become a flight attendant also travel and he says that despite what's happened, that he would still support his son. Here outside of the family crisis center and police hospital, three other victims have been identified. A hundred and fifty eight other families still waiting for answers -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: So many families preparing for the worse news. Thanks very much to David Molko.
Gary Tuchman is also in Surabaya tonight. Gary, you know, you have been speaking with the families. How are they doing right now? I mean, it is such a difficult wait with really no possibility sadly of happy news at the end of the tunnel?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Jim. It is Saturday morning here and this moment, this is six days exactly since we learned about the disappearance of this plane. So it is a very long time and most of these families haven't found out anything about their loved ones. Here in Surabaya we're at the police headquarters and the reason we're here is because that tent behind me is the family waiting center where families wait for information and getting help. There is a truck here right now delivering chairs at the waiting center and the reason they are doing that is very interesting. Unfortunately the weather here is been so bad that this tent over the last couple of days has flooded. So they had to move everyone out. There is no one in there right now and they built a raised floor with carpeting, so when it rains again, which it likely will, they will flood and now they are moving new chairs again. So right now, there are no any families here, not only because of that but also because more and more of them are staying at home waiting for information. But once again, 30 bodies are recovered and that means 132 bodies not.
One other thing Jim, yesterday we went to a church service, that was so sad and poignant, but in this predominantly Muslim country, this aircraft had 46 members of one small Christian denomination here in Indonesia. Thirty percent of the people on that plane were from the same church and we went to the service the church had and it was just very sad being there. These poor people going through with so many other people here are going through, and now waiting to hear about their loved ones -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Incredible, one-third of the plane from one church. Thanks very much to Gary Tuchman. He's live in Surabaya, Indonesia.
OUTFRONT tonight, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby also live tonight. The U.S. of course playing an important role in the search. We were waiting, I understand, Admiral Kirby, for the arrival of the USS Fort Worth to join. Has it gotten to the search site yet?
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Yes. Fort Worth is on the day. As I'm told she is west of the search area right now but should arrive on stage a little bit later today.
SCIUTTO: What special capabilities does it bring along, that it could be employed, particularly to the underwater search.
KIRBY: Well, the Fort Worth is littoral combat ship shows she's a very fast, shallow draft, 14 feet draft ship. So she can go into places, shallow water where perhaps other navy ships aren't able to go. She also does a helicopter onboard which we do expect will be up in flying today and helping in the search and recovery effort. She does have some underwater detection capabilities onboard as you noted but right now there does not seem to be a need for that or a desire to use it. So right now, I think she's mostly going to be used in the same way that the USS Sampson destroyer on stage and is being used which is for aerial search and recovery.
SCIUTTO: Why no request yet from the Indonesian's for that kind of help, the U.S. certainly offering it as you've been telling the over recent days, they've been preparing things like dive teams, et cetera. Any frustration on the part of the U.S. military that they haven't been asked to take part more?
KIRBY: No. Not at all, Jim. Look, we're here to support them in any way that they see fit. The Indonesian search and rescue agency is coordinating this, leading the effort and doing quite a good job, we might add. So we're just proud to be able to support in any way we can. There is no frustration at all. We want to bring whatever capabilities, you know, are Jermaine to this kind of search effort and have them really if they are need. And if they are not need, then that is okay too. But we want to be able to be ready to participate in any way.
SCIUTTO: You let me know just before air that the USS Sampson, the destroyer that has been on-site for a number of days now, has now collected some 12 bodies. We know that other search teams together collected about 30 bodies. It seems that that is accelerating in the last 24 hours or so. Are searchers reading anything into that? Do they believe as a result of that concentration of bodies that they are getting closer to where the concentration of wreckage will be on the ocean floor?
KIRBY: No, I haven't heard anything like that, Jim. And I think it is a little too soon to be able to say that because of the stuff that is being recovered and the bodies that are being recovered that we have a better sense of necessarily where the wreckage is on the ocean floor. As you are reporting and the reporting on CNN has pointed out, I mean, there are tides, there's currents, there's winds, the sea state changes every day and with all of that movement underwater and on the surface, quite frankly, you will going to get wreckage and debris spread around and that makes a little more difficult. So too early I think to see that there is any trend here. But obviously, we're going to be at it and be willing to support for as long as necessary.
SCIUTTO: The U.S. of course also took part in the search for MH-370 which, you know, sadly still have not located the wreckage and there were questions throughout that search about who was leading it, there were some false starts, some signals, et cetera. Do you believe that this search learned any lessons from that search in terms of leadership, in terms of allocation of resources, communication among the many nations taking part?
KIRBY: We always learn from operations. Every time we do won, we always look at lessons learned and try to look at how we can improve our performance next time around. But we've gotten pretty good at search and rescue operations in the U.S. military. It is a part and parcel of the kinds of missions that we are trained to conduct. But I will tell you, again, back to what I said before, the Indonesian government has the lead here and their search and rescue agency is coordinating all the efforts and they're doing a very good job of it. And again, we are here to support, we're here to lend whatever capabilities we can but obviously, we learn from every single operation we can built.
SCIUTTO: Can you give us what sense of time here, the U.S. offering its help although that much progress has been made in recent days, these things take a long time. How long is the U.S. committing its resources to this search and how long should Americans expect for this to last going forward?
KIRBY: Well, we've made it very clear to the Indonesian government and to our partners in the region that we'll be ready, willing and help for as long as its required. There is no time stamp put on that, no deadline put on that. We're going to help as long as it's required. Given that this is a much different situation than MH-370, shallower water, more confined geographic area, we already now have some debris, and certainly are recovering some bodies so we have a better sense of where things are. I think we're looking at a matter of weeks. But you never know. It could go longer than that even.
SCIUTTO: Admiral John Kirby, thanks very much for joining us. Two of America's most advanced ships now taking part in the search. Great to have you on tonight.
KIRBY: Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT tonight. CNN analyst David Gallo, he is the director of the Special Projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, had a central role in locating the wreckage of Air France 447, much deeper water in that case in the Atlantic. Listening to Admiral Kirby there, one thing that strikes me is what seems to be Indonesian government reluctance to take in the help for instance that the U.S. is offering here. The USS Fort Worth, a littoral combat ship, it has side-scan sonar, essential, it's got experienced dive teams, essential for this stage of the search. Are you surprised by that?
DAVID GALLO, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION: I'm not. I agree absolutely with what the admiral said that, you know, they are doing a good job and so it seems. That it would be wrong to impose ourselves on them. And they are I think aware. In fact, and we've made an informal offer that we are available to help if that should be needed. So we're in a sit and wait mode. And I think that's the appropriate way. Having better on the other side of that equation in the middle of a search, it is nice to have people there if you need them. But you don't want someone imposing on you.
SCIUTTO: Clearly they've made progress in the last several days. First, the simplest things something that never happened with MH-370s, you found bodies and debris and you know what's in the general area. That seems to have accelerate somewhat, you're finding more debris but the area is still quite large. Two thousand square miles. This is big. I think the size of Long Island, New York.
GALLO: That is right.
SCIUTTO: With that in mind, maybe you can give our viewers a sense of how long it would take to scan that whole area, zero in on the majority of the record.
GALLO: Sure. Depending on Air France, we had, the haystack was 5,000 square miles, so it was 40 miles across diameters, this is about half that little -- little less than half of that.
SCIUTTO: How long did it take you with --
GALLO: Well, it could have been. If we took it all the time, it would have taken months to do it. It all depends on how many vehicles, the talent of the team. The operational plan you got in place. How detailed do you want to look? Do you want to just go over quickly certain areas or do you really want to focus in? And more importantly, it depends on the weather.
GALLO: And in this case, you know, they've had horrible luck with the weather, so.
SCIUTTO: Big advantage here though, it is 100 feet deep, it's not miles deep like we're dealing.
GALLO: Sure. And it is -- you don't have to come out a thousand miles, you can come out in a day or two --
SCIUTTO: And stay on station.
GALLO: And stay on station.
SCIUTTO: And stay on station. Absolutely right. David Gallo, Woods Hole, thanks very much for joining us as always.
GALLO: Welcome, Jim.
SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, the air space over Southeast Asia, the fastest growing air market in the world can be extremely crowded. Could that have been a contributing factor to the crash? And we'll look at a new theory in the crash. Did the pilot managed to land the plane on the surface of the water only to have it sink in high seas.
Plus -- the U.S. slams North Korea with even more sanctions, targeting cyber-operations and weapons dealers. We'll have the latest.
SCIUTTO: Breaking news tonight in the search for AirAsia flight 8501. A helicopter from the USS Sampson is right now in the air searching for debris and bodies. We've learned just tonight that they have now recovered 12 of the 30 bodies found so far. The USS Fort Worth is on the way to the search zone as well, just hours away from being on station. Also found during yesterday's search, a window panel that appears to be part of the plane's fuselage. Tonight there are also new questions as to whether the congested air space around Southeast Asia could have contributed to the crash.
Tom Foreman tonight is OUTFRONT. And Tom, what are you learning about the number of planes flying near flight 8501 at that very moment that it vanished?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we certainly know that just as the skies all around there have grown much more crowded in recent years, there was some congestion in this area too. The plane was at about 32,000 feet when it was last recorded there and this is what it was flying into. This gigantic storm out there about 200 square miles. The height of the storm some 52,000 feet towering up in the air and in a big storm like this, you don't really know what you might have winds in here at 70, 80, 90 miles an hour in individualized places in micro-burst. So what else was going on at that time? Well, at that time that this plane disappeared, somewhere within about 124 miles of it and 2,000 feet above or more were at least these five different flights. There may have been more. But we know that these were there. So these already had the air space that this plane wanted to some degree. Now whether you could fit in there or not, that is where air traffic
controllers and air experts should debate. He was at 32,000 feet, he had requested to go up to 38,000 feet and that was denied. They said he could not go up there. Air traffic control had concluded apparently that it would be okay for them to go to 34,000 feet, but somewhere in the process of this being decided and the message being sent to him, that is when they lost contact with the plane. And all of this is fuelling the idea that maybe -- maybe what happened is this pilot was desperate to get to a higher altitude and in doing so, he angled up so sharply that he somehow went into a stall or had some other sort of failure that made the plane fall to the ground. That is just a theory right now, Jim. But in these crowded skies, which have been more and more crowded in that part of the world and against this storm, there is certainly a notion that he did want to go much higher, much faster and of course now the plane is lost -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much, Tom.
Let's test out some of those theories based on the information we have so far. OUTFRONT is CNN safety analyst David Soucie and CNN aviation analyst Les Abend and Mary Schiavo. And Marie, if I can ask you first. You do believe that heavy air traffic in the area is extremely significant when it comes to this crash. Why is that?
MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: Well, it is extremely significant for two reasons. One, I don't know if it would have made a difference if he got the clearance in this particular case. If the planes overhead really prohibited that. Because the information that came out over New Year's indicated a climb rate between 6,000 and 9,000 feet per minute. The maximum crime rate for this plane is 3500. So I think that the weather was forcing a lot of this climb rate because it was just so different from what's required. But I do think the cloud and skies played a role in the decision to go, to get their -- or their planes for going. The decision to go through the storm instead of around it and of course the vast increase in flights in this area has left the government unable to keep up with the regulation. Our own federal aviation administration has judged Indonesia safety standards and safety regulators for example as sub-par. And so I think that the regulation and the investigators haven't kept up with the traffic volume.
SCIUTTO: Mary mentions -- I saw you shaking your head Les when Tom was talking about the one theory about the plane perhaps stalling as it tried to get to that higher altitude.
LES ABEND, COMMERCIAL AIRLINE CAPTAIN: Listen, I'm going to go on the side of this particular captain for 20,000 hours, 6,000 hours from what we understand with the airline itself. He knows the performance of his airplane. To climate such a rate that could have possibly create a stall. It doesn't make sense to me. Especially bringing this airplane up to an altitude. That is pretty close to the service ceiling of that airplane. You know, there's a lot of aspects about it that just led me to believe, ye, maybe they were in an urgent situation trying to deviate around weather and it wasn't going to happen because the altitude requested was denied. But in the same token, you're just not going to take that airplane out of its performance capabilities regardless, I mean, not at that level of experience. I'm thinking something mechanical got this -- got the crew's attention.
SCIUTTO: I can hear Mary whispering her agreement. David, you know, this is speculation territory at this point.
DAVID SOUCIE, FORMER FAA SAFETY INSPECTOR: Of course.
SCIUTTO: But what we do know is the weather was really bad and it just strikes me as a frequent flier, often in really bad weather, we've had two incidence in the last several years, Air France 447, bad weather, there's a failure of equipment and plane goes down. Here bad weather, which looks to be a major factor in it.
SCIUTTO: I mean, should there be new regulation about what kind of weather these planes fly through? Mary makes the point about get there-it is, you know, the pilot and possibly the passengers as well. I think, ah, let's get there.
SOUCIE: Well, I think one of the things to think about to going back to this, that the pilot has at his disposal, the ability to declare an emergency. If he was so desperate to make that change, he could have declared an emergency --
SCIUTTO: And if we were overruled the controller.
SOUCIE: Exactly. So I think as far as getting around, yes, I agree with that, with Mary's thought of the fact that it was rising faster than its climb rate makes a lot of sense.
ABEND: But even if he declared an emergency, it would have taken a little bit of time to clear out the airplanes out of the way and make a spot for them.
SOUCIE: But that does put the onus on the air traffic controller.
ABEND: Sure. Absolutely. Absolutely.
SCIUTTO: Let's look again at what we do know at this point. You have the 30 bodies discovered, you have and you made this point David, and I want to ask your opinion as well, Mary, that you had an exit door discovered. You had an exit raft discovered, which gave you possible indication that maybe the pilot had tried unsuccessfully, sadly, to ditch the plane that they were preparing to get off the plane.
SOUCIE: Well, and the reason I think of that was there no other debris they found in that first pass. Now, this may change. There may be other debris that they do found. But in order for that exit door to then by itself outside of the airplane with the slide as well outside of the airplane, with the tank that inflates the slide outside of the airplane and had no other debris other than some passengers that were out there, three I think at the time and from a specific area, the ocean is not smart enough to filter out everything except those things associated with that escape so it just raises flags.
SCIUTTO: And Mary, you've been listening to that reading in the fact of those clues, does that sound plausible to you as well?
SCHIAVO: Well, it would except for the -- and again, this is leaked information came out over New Year's day and that was at the decent rate and times buried from 11,000 feet per minute to over 24,000 feet per minute and again, that exceeds anything that the plane would do on its own. So I think it was a tremendous updraft that took it up at a tremendous down draft and at those rates, I mean, that is not a controlled descent. And that is not a landing descent, it is supposed to be 2,000 feet per minute.
SCIUTTO: Les, those tremendous up drafts down drafts, how difficult to control the plane in those circumstances?
ABEND: Well, it is not so much the control issue, it is the fact that the crew would be attempting to keep that airplane basically right side up and they might be having some stresses to that airplane. They would be focused on the auto pilot off, they would be hand-flying the airplane and more than likely they would be going after the attitude as opposed to the altitude of the airplane, saying we have to control this thing and keep it right side up and it may have added stress. Twenty four thousand feet a minute though sounds pretty excessive to me. Even though the down draft is in the thunderstorm.
SCIUTTO: We'll know when they find those black boxes. Les, David, Mary, thanks very much for joining as always.
And OUTFRONT next, breaking news, the U.S. with its first public response to the North Korea cyber-attack on Sony. Today's announcement, a tough new round of sanctions targeting the country's cyber-off and its arms dealers. Will North Korea strike back?
SCIUTTO: Welcome back. And breaking news today. The U.S. punishing North Korea in the wake of the Sony cyber-attack. President Obama is ordering tough new economic sanctions on three powerful North Korean government entities and ten senior officials. You remember that theater chains pulled Sony's movie "The Interview" over terrorist threats by hackers, the film depicts the assassination of Kim Jong-un. With today's sanctions, the administration seems to be confirming its belief that North Korea is behind the cyber-attack.
Our Jim Acosta is OUTFRONT.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi, guys. Happy New Year, everybody.
REPORTER: Happy New Year.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new sanctions ordered by President Obama are being dubbed by the White House as broad and powerful, and only the initial U.S. response to North Korea's alleged cyber attack on Sony Pictures.
Senior administration officials say they are aimed at any and all officials of the North Korean government, its political hierarchy, as well as the heart of Pyongyang shadowy cyber operation, and the money that finances it. Specifically blocked from any dealings with U.S. financial firms, the RGB, the North Korea intelligence, KOMID, its primary arms developer, plus, a chief defense, research and development firm.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, the president said his executive order adds to sanctions already in place and is not targeted at the people of North Korea, but rather is aimed at the government of North Korea and its activities that threaten the United States and others. The president vowed to hold Pyongyang responsible just before leaving for his annual vacation in Hawaii.
OBAMA: They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond. We will respond proportionally and we'll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.
ACOSTA: In an interview, Mr. Obama called North Korea's action a kind of cyber vandalism the U.S. will be dealing with for years to come.
OBAMA: We're going to be in this environment in this new world where so much is digitalized that both state and non-state actors are going to have the capacity to disrupt our lives in all sorts of ways. We have to do a much better job of guarding against that. We have to treat it like we would treat the incidents of crime in our countries.
ACOSTA: The White House appeared to suggest the U.S. was not behind that vast Internet outage in the days after the president's comments. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement, "The sanctions are the first aspect of our response."
A senior administration official went further, saying the U.S. is not ruling out the possibility that North Korea may have done it to themselves.
SCIUTTO: And just how much these new sanctions will pinch North Korea's already isolated economy is unclear. Senior administration officials say the U.S. is not certain whether the 10 people targeted in these sanctions even have assets in the U.S. but the White House made it clear today, Jim, that more is on the way. They are just getting warmed up on this front, Jim.
SCIUTTO: It could be very costly to the North Korean economy. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, joining us live from Hawaii.
Joining me now, OUTFRONT, Gordon Chang. He's a "Daily Beast" contributor and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World". And David Kang, he's director of Korean studies at the University of Southern California.
David, I wonder if I could begin with you, because you have said you believe these latest sanctions are more symbolic than substantive.
Do you believe they'll have any measurable impact on the North Korean regime?
DAVID KANG, DIRECTOR, KOREAN STUDIES INSTITUTE, UNIV. OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: It's hard to say. As was pointed out in your clip, they don't actually do any business with the U.S. right now. So, prohibiting them isn't going to stop a lot. I think it's aimed more at sending a signal or symbolic that the U.S. is going to respond to cyber espionage, rather than having a measurable impact on North Korea.
SCIUTTO: But it's my understand that while there is no trade between the U.S. and North Korea, that this will likely spook other entities that do business with North Korea, that they will the become concerned that their access to the U.S. financial system might be blocked or that they'll pay other prices. Is that not a carry-on effect of these kinds of measures?
KANG: Sure. I think that is one of the intended targets, is other companies, other banks in China or Russia that are doing business with North Korea, that also have to worry about what the U.S. might do.
That being said, this is a very small portion of the North Korean economy. And so, it's not clear what kind of effect it will have.
SCIUTTO: Gordon, you know that always part of the calculation with responses like this and measures against North Korea, is concern about sparking further retaliation from the North Korean side. I wonder, as you look at these sanctions, do you consider them a proportional response and are you concerned about how North Korea pays the U.S. back, as it were?
GORDON CHANG, DAILY BEAST CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it's very difficult to figure out what a proportional response would be considering what North Korea and some associated hackers did to Sony Pictures Entertainment, and indeed, they attacked the core of American democracy.
I don't think the North Koreans are going to take this lying down. We've got to remember that in a few weeks, South Korean activists are going to take DVDs of "The Interview," the movie that North Korea hates, and they're going to try to loft it over to the militarized zone into North Korea so that North Korean citizens can watch it.
At that point, North Korea is probably going to react in very tangible ways, certainly against South Korea and maybe against Sony, and also maybe against the United States itself.
SCIUTTO: We have to be -- this is a country that has taken military action against U.S. ally South Korea. They even have sunk a ship before in previous cycles of retaliation.
David, I wonder if I can ask you, when you look at this now, is the administration clearly doubling down on blaming the cyber attack on North Korea? I mean, administration officials are saying, well they are not necessarily connected but if you look at the Department of Treasury announcement, it says this is intended to punish North Korea for repressive actions, particularly, and I'm reading from the statement here, "its efforts to undermine U.S. cyber security".
Is this a sign that despite the doubts you've heard from private cyber security firms, the U.S. believes it was North Korea?
KANG: Yes, I think it's very clear that the Obama administration is quite convinced that North Korea was behind the attacks, either directly or outsourcing it. And so I think that this is their belief and this is how they are responding. And I think that the skeptics on the outside are the ones that they are having to convince, but that hasn't happened yet.
SCIUTTO: Gordon, though the White House said imbedded a warning into today's announcement, saying that today's actions are the first aspect of our response, telegraphing that there will be other measures. What kind of measures can we expect to see?
CHANG: Well, people have been talking about putting North Korea back on the State Department's list of terrorism sponsoring states. And I think that we could see more sanctions of the type we saw today, which would then make these maybe less symbolic and more substantive. But, you know, I think the administration is going to be very careful, because we're a wired society and North Korea is not and they want to avoid the cycle of escalation. You know, that is certainly a very paramount response. But I think also that we've got to realize that North Korea will respond because they always have responded in the past.
SCIUTTO: Always, they can be counted on for it.
Gordon Chang, David Kang, thanks so much for joining us tonight.
And OUTFRONT next, after 13 years of war, the American combat mission in Afghanistan officially ended last week. But what did the U.S. achieve there and in other conflicts where U.S. troops have fought and died?
And later, beloved film critic Roger Ebert is filmed, where many of his peers have given a thumbs up. We'll hear from the movie's director.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.
Tonight, a New Year and a new mission for the U.S. in Afghanistan. U.S. combat mission there has now officially ended, after 13 years and more than 2,300 American lives lost, Operation Enduring Freedom is over.
But nearly 11,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan. Their new job: to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.
I recently returned from Afghanistan where I accompanied outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on what likely be his final trip to the region while in office and I asked him about the future of Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, OUTGOING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think this country, first of all, has made tremendous progress. Where Afghanistan was five years ago, two or three years ago, is hardly any comparison. But it still has threats, al Qaeda, Taliban. I think every sign is they can do this. But it's still a dangerous place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Dangerous indeed.
And according to my next guest, James Fallows, despite the blood and treasure committed there by the U.S. and in Iraq, the U.S. has not achieved any of the stated goals. He makes the difficult and controversial argument that the best military in the world is in effect being wasted. He writes the cover story for this month's "Atlantic Magazine", why do the best soldiers in the world keep losing.
Jim Fallows, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
JAMES FALLOWS, ATLANTIC MAGAZINE: My pleasure. Thank you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: I want to begin by quoting your article, which is part of the nut of your argument. He say, quote, "outsiders treat the military too reverently and too cavalierly as if regarding its members as heroes, makes up for committing them to unending, unwinnable missions and denying them anything the political mind share we give to any major public undertakings."
I wonder, are you saying we deify American troops, the American military to a default?
FALLOWS: Yes, I am. I'm saying that in the past generation, especially the last 13 years, with more or less open-ended war, the fact that so few Americans have borne the burden of this combat, has been less than 1 percent of the entire population that served in Iraq or Afghanistan in the last dozen years and, of course, many of those who did serve have been there again and again.
The fact that this is so removed from mainstream political concerns and impact to American families means we have these half-time ceremonies of saluting the heroes, which are reverent but then pay too little attention to the real work of politics, of paying attention to how the sacrifices and risks we're asking our troops to bear.
SCIUTTO: You also make the point that American politicians, in effect, the policymakers that are sending troops to the war are just as disconnected to the population. In past times, they might have been veterans themselves or many -- or sent children there, men or women, sons an daughters to fight but that's not as true today as it was then. FALLOWS: Right. I think the way in which the military policy does
involve almost every member of Congress is through contracts. For example, modern weapons systems have contracts in almost every congressional district, certainly in almost every state, and so there is a stimulus package instead of elected representatives have.
But when it comes to having serious debate about what kind of wars we want to engage in and who should be accountable for the frustrations we've had in Iraq and Afghanistan what, the future direction of spending should be, there is almost no discussion in our presidential debates. There was a House vote on a budget last year that was 61-0, military policy. The House can't agree on anything but there is no debate of substance.
SCIUTTO: Accountability. You really zero in on that being lacking. And a great point by Tom Ricks, a long time Pentagon correspondent, that over the past decade of war, not a single army general has been relieved of duty for combat ineffectiveness. How much of a failure is that?
FALLOWS: I think it is a failure. If we think of military history or any other human institution, we know that some people do well and some people do less well and institutions thrive and succeed only if that distinction is made.
But over the last -- you know, in the civil war, Abraham Lincoln was removing generals and World War II and I. Our political leaders are saying this general is good and that general is bad. And in this era of sort of classifying all troops and leaders as heroes, who we won't look at in too much detail, we don't have personal disciplined cases in involving famous generals, but not saying this general has not done the job in Iraq or Afghanistan, and that again is a sign of respecting but not engaging with America's military.
SCIUTTO: And when they do lose their jobs, General Petraeus, for instance, it is for personal issues and not for issues on the battlefield.
Final point if I can, because you also talk about how the money is spent here. You say we spent too much money on the military and spent it stupidly. Many of the Pentagon's most odious high-tech ventures have been costly and spectacular failures, of course, the one that everyone talking about now, the F-35, $133 billion, well-overbudget, but you say it is not helping troops win battles in the field.
FALLOWS: I think if you ask almost any serving troop about different kind of aircraft, they'd say the A-10, which is now being phased out, is more important to their survival and welfare than the F-35. But as a political matter involving, the American public has heard of Solyndra but not this airplane that has 100 times the cost difference and much greater human consequence.
SCIUTTO: And you also make a great point that American fighting men and women in the field still relying on basically the same weapon they've been using for decades, which incredibly, all of the money spent on things flying high above. FALLOWS: Yes. You recall in the early days of Iraq invasion, of
having just basic armor issues for the vehicles, being crucial life or death matter.
SCIUTTO: I remember being there in Iraq and the soldiers had to up armor themselves with pieces of metal and welding and so on. It's incredible.
Jim Fallows, it's a very powerful important piece, it's something that should be part of the conversation. It's great to have you on tonight.
FALLOWS: Thank you very much, Jim.
SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, remembering two extraordinary lives. Film critic Roger Ebert and New York Governor Mario Cuomo who died yesterday at 82. That's ahead.
SCIUTTO: When the Academy Award nominations are revealed in a few weeks, it is likely legendary film critic Roger Ebert will be on the list, not for his work as a film critic, though, for documentary about his extraordinary life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two film critics talking about the movies. This is Roger Ebert in "The Chicago Sun-Times". And right over here is Gene Siskel from "The Chicago Tribune".
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: The surprising and poignant story is told in a new CNN Film "Life Itself", which debuts on Sunday night.
Erin Burnett interviewed the director, Steve James.
ERIN BURNETT, OUTFRONT HOST: What made you decide to make a film about Roger Ebert?
STEVE JAMES, DIRECTOR, "LIFE ITSELF": Well, I mean, Roger was the most significant film critic, I think, ever. Especially for sort of the great mass of people who love movies. Not -- you know, maybe not the highfalutin types.
But really what made me fall in love with the story was his life story and this incredible journey he went on through his life from small town Illinois to the big city of Chicago to the show. And then eventually how he dealt with cancer. Roger was absolutely certain about this. That he didn't want the film to not show his day-to-day reality. That was just as important to him as it was to me.
BURNETT: Interesting given he was a movie critic that he want nothing to be edited, nothing to be censored, because movies are such in a weird way a truth but also a series of obfuscations, right?
BURNETT: They're both.
So, did he ever ask you to edit or censor anything?
JAMES: No, he didn't. He did not ask me to do that. I think that's because Roger knew the kind of films that he loved, especially in the documentary realm but also fiction, with films that he felt were intimate, honest, and complicated. I think once he made a decision to be a part of this film when he said, OK, let's do this, he wasn't going to have a different standard for him than he would if you were watching a movie about somebody else.
Now, what makes that so unusual is like you say, he was a film critic, he knew what he was getting into in a way a lot of people don't know. And it's -- I think it's exceedingly rare for someone of his stature, knowledge, and celebrity to commit to that kind of honesty.
BURNETT: Exceedingly rare but I would say unprecedented.
What did it end up being more about for you? His career or his dying? Because this is really about both.
JAMES: You know, it actually ended up being more about his living and the reason I say that is as I made this film, I came to realize that this film is really kind of a love story on all these different levels. It's his love affair with movies, love affair with Chicago, love affair, clearly, with Chaz in a big time way. Even with Gene Siskel, in a very different way.
BURNETT: Right, right.
JAMES: But ultimately, what it all adds up to is Roger had this incredible love affair I think with life. And that's why I think he called his biography "Life Itself", his autobiography, and why we borrowed that for the title of the film.
BURNETT: At the very end, you did see him changed. He started to slowdown. He wasn't able to respond to you the way he had been on e- mail.
Was there anything that you wish you'd be able to ask him that you just didn't get a chance?
JAMES: I had literally nine pages of questions for him that I probably got through about a page and a half ultimately. I mean, there were so many questions but the kinds of things, for instance, I really wanted to ask him about was, for instance, about Gene Siskel. You know, he writes about Gene in his memoir, but it's really a beautiful, sort of, elegiac kind of fond recalling of that relationship, even though he acknowledges that they had their conflicts.
BURNETT: Right. JAMES: I wanted to try to put him back in the middle of when he was feeling, you know --
BURNETT: The anger.
JAMES: The anger towards Gene and really had him speak to that. I never got a chance, for instance, to ask him that.
BURNETT: Well, what you had a chance to do was incredible. I know so many people who saw everything he did but also now know who he is as the lion of, as you said, of all movie critics. We'll enjoy watching this so much. Thank you.
JAMES: Thanks for having me.
SCIUTTO: You don't want to miss "Life Itself" at Sunday night on 9:00, right here on CNN.
And OUTFRONT next, remembering Mario Cuomo.
SCIUTTO: Mario Cuomo, a three term governor of New York and a champion of liberal Democrats died Thursday at his home here in Manhattan, surrounded by his family. Mr. Cuomo was remembered by colleagues on both sides of the aisle of a man of conscience and eloquence steered by his immigrant roots and his strong Catholic faith. A skilled politician who called politics an ugly business, Cuomo turned down call to run for president in 1998 and again in 1992. The peak of his career probably came in 1984, when he delivered a fiery keynote address at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco.
Here's one moment from that address that perhaps best sums up his personal and his political philosophy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THEN-GOV. MARIO CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: We believe as Democrats that a society is blessed as ours, the most affluent democracy in the world's history, one that can spend trillions on instruments of destruction ought to be able to help the middle class in its struggle, ought to be able to find work for all who can do it, room at the table, shelter for the homeless, care for the elderly and infirm, and hope for the destitute.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: There are words that continue to resonate in today's political debate as they did 30 years ago.
Just hours before his death, Mario Cuomo's son, Andrew, was sworn in for his second term as New York governor. Mayor Cuomo was 82 and our thoughts and our prayers are with our friend and colleague Chris Cuomo on the loss of his father. Thanks very much for joining us. Thanks for having me all week. It's been great. Erin Burnett back next week.
Have a great weekend and a happy New Year.
"AC360" starts right now.