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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama Punishes North Korea for Cyberattack; 30 Bodies Recovered as AirAsia Search Narrows; What the AirAsia Wreckage Clues Tell; Doomed Airliner's Final Minutes
Aired January 2, 2015 - 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, breaking news. Punishing North Korea -- President Obama slaps strict new sanctions on the Kim Jong-un regime in response to the massive cyber attack on Sony Pictures.
What impact will they have?
Kim's makeover -- how the dictator is moving to tighten his grip on power, including increased propaganda.
What's different about his appearance now that he may be trying to invoke his father's legacy?
Plane crash clue -- an apparent piece of the fuselage from that AirAsia plane is recovered, along with dozens more bodies.
What does this reveal about this deadly disaster?
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Brianna Keilar.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: We are following two major breaking stories. Despite rough seas and dangerous weather conditions, searchers now have recovered 30 bodies from the wreckage of that AirAsia jet that crashed. Crews also discovered more parts of the airliner, including what appears to be one of the window panels.
However, what's become of the black boxes, that is still a mystery.
Also breaking, President Obama is punishing North Korea, including top individuals in Kim Jong-un's government, for the cyber attack on Sony Pictures.
We have correspondents and analysts standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM and around the globe.
Let's begin now with CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
He is traveling with the president in Hawaii -- Jim, tell us about these sanctions and just how much of an impact they'll have.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, taking care of a serious piece of business at the end of his vacation here in Hawaii, President Obama is turning up the heat on North Korea in response to the cyber attack on Sony.
The Obama administration maintains North Korea was behind that attack. And officials say the sanctions announced today are only the beginning.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi, guys.
Happy New Year!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy new year.
ACOSTA (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're aimed at any and all officials of the North Korean government, its political hierarchy, as well as the heart of Pyongyang's shadowy cyber operation and the money that finances it.
Specifically blocked from any dealings with U.S. financial firms, the RGB, North Korea's intelligence operation; KOMID, its primary arms dealer; 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 with CNN, Mr. Obama called North Korea's actions a kind of cyber vandalism the U.S. will be dealing with for years to come.
OBAMA: We're going to be in an 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 incidence of crime in our countries.
ACOSTA: The White House appeared to suggest that the U.S. was not behind that vast Internet outage in North Korea 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.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ACOSTA: Now, just how much these 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 the sanctions even have assets in the U.S. -- but, Brianna, the White House made it very clear today they're just getting warmed up -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. We'll be standing by to see what else is happening then.
Jim Acosta, thank you so much, with the president there.
We're also learning more about why the U.S. believes North Korea is behind the cyber attack on Sony Pictures, despite some lingering questions about the possible involvement of a disgruntled former Sony employee.
CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, and our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, have been working their sources.
What are you learning -- Pam?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're learning, basically, Brianna, that the FBI says, look, this is a vote of confidence from the White House, the fact that they're taking this action now, going after North Korea in the wake of all these naysayers, including a cyber security firm that says, look, this was an insider job, this shows -- this is sort of underscoring the fact that the U.S. government believes in the FBI's assessment that North Korea is behind the Sony hack job.
KEILAR: And the FBI, you're talking to sources -- Tom.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right.
KEILAR: They're adamant, right, that this is North Korea and this isn't disgruntled former employees?
FUENTES: Right. I spoke on New Year's Eve with executives involved in the oversight of this investigation. And they said that based on a meeting the FBI had with the Norse Company and the materials turned over by the Norse Company to the FBI, that that company and the other companies who have claimed that the FBI investigation was faulty only have 20 percent of the evidence in this case. They don't have access to the other 80 percent that the FBI does, which is classified, and which involves sources and methods being conducted throughout the world. And, in fact, they took it one step further and said that the executives from these companies are being reckless and irresponsible in making these accusations that the investigation was not correctly done.
KEILAR: Do you think, Pamela, that we will find out why -- what the evidence that the FBI has, or are we not going to be privy to that?
BROWN: Well, as Tom said, a lot of the evidence, the more incriminating evidence, is classified, Brianna. So it would have to be declassified.
There is a possibility that the FBI will come out and reveal a little bit more. I don't think we're going to hear about any big revelations, though, as far as so that -- the smoking gun, if you will, and how they know it's North Korea. I think it won't be as big as that.
But we know Comey is speaking. He's going to be, of course, the director of the FBI. He's going to be speaking at Fordham University next week at a big cyber security forum. So I wouldn't be surprised if we hear him touch on the Sony hack.
BROWN: But as far as the evidence behind, you know, why they came to this conclusion, I don't think we're going to be hearing any big revelations any time soon.
FUENTES: Right. They've been discussing at FBI headquarters this week about maybe giving out a little bit more information next week or the week after. But they really don't want to get in the position that when somebody recklessly says that the investigation was faulty...
FUENTES: -- that they give up something that helps the adversaries overseas to know how they did what they did.
KEILAR: Yes. I really want to know what it is, though, I will tell you.
BROWN: You're not the only one.
KEILAR: Tom Fuentes, thank you so much.
Pamela Brown, really appreciate it.
BROWN: Thank you.
KEILAR: We're also following reaction to a major surprise from Kim Jong-un, hints of a possible thaw in his country's relations with South Korea if, to use his word, the mood is right.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KEILAR (voice-over): As North Korea ushered in a new year, the U.S. made good on a promise to strike back at the regime for a cyber attack that threatened the release of an American movie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE INTERVIEW," COURTESY SONY PICTURES)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to go kill Kim Jong-un?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Totally. (INAUDIBLE).
KEILAR: New sanctions on North Korea's military income, even as the hermit kingdom opens up to the idea of warming relations with South Korea.
In a New Year's address on national TV, the isolated country's leader, Kim Jong-un said if conditions were right, he would be open to high level talks with the South.
KIM JONG-UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER: (through translator). If the atmosphere and environment are there, there is no reason not to hold a high level summit. We will make every effort to advance dialogue and cooperation.
KEILAR: Having leaders of the two Koreas on speaking terms would be significant.
But overtures have been made in the past with no result.
JOSEPH DETRANI, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY: In the past, there's been so much disappointment with the attempts or offers on the part of Kim Jong-un to enter into negotiations and then for some reason, the conditions aren't right and it doesn't move forward.
KEILAR: In recent months, there have been some signs of a thaw in the otherwise bellicose relationship between the North and South. Kim's remarks come after a South Korean official, earlier this week, suggested a meeting of cabinet ministers this month.
RYOO KIHL-JAE, SOUTH KOREAN UNIFICATION MINISTER (through translator): I don't think we'll have any particular agenda. But our position is to discuss everything that South and North have mutual interests in.
KEILAR: Video was released of Kim appearing to pilot a plane earlier this week, likely a propaganda move to show him as in control after the U.S. vowed retaliation for that cyber attack. Kim may even even be trying to project strength through his facial hair. His eyebrows now considerably shorter than seen in previous years and noticeably similar to those of his father, Kim Jong-il, whose regime was known for its brutality.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
KEILAR: With us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, Gordon Chang, a columnist for Forbes.com and author of the book, "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."
We also have Stephen Yates, who was deputy assistant for national security to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Thanks for being with us.
And, Stephen, starting with you, there are sometimes sanctions and there's not a whole lot of bite to them. And sometimes there are sanctions that go very far.
How would you classify these?
STEPHEN YATES, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO DICK CHENEY: I would classify these as basically an initial step. They seem to be modeled somewhat after the approach that was taken against Russia after its taking Crimea from the Ukraine, where we have a narrow list of targets that we're going after. I see some of these entities as important in North Korea, but unlikely would have this kind of a limited list have a strategic impact on Kim Jong-un's calculus.
KEILAR: So, then, Gordon, who specifically are we talking about being affected here and who won't be affected?
GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN": Well, the most important target is the General Reconnaissance Bureau, which is a military or a semi-military intelligence organization, which included a number of cyber hacking units, including Unit 121 and Lab 110. And that is the main one. There are two other organizations and 10 individuals. But essentially, if we're looking at hacking, the General Reconnaissance Bureau is the most important one.
KEILAR: OK. And, Stephen, when you look at the list of names here that the Treasury Department has put out, they're not associated with the hacking, many of them. Some are. But a lot of them are arms dealers stationed in places like Iran and Syria.
Why is that?
Are these sanctions, in part, to expose some of these names?
YATES: Well, I think in some ways, this is a moment of opportunity. There are a number of different challenges that North Korea presents.
The Obama administration really hasn't put forward any kind of a comprehensive strategy for what it aims to do in shaping their behavior. And so here, we've had a provocation and maybe they see this as an opportunity to address proliferation and some other kinds of concerns that are not directly related to the cyber hacking.
But the biggest name that's not on this list is North Korea's neighbor in China.
And what makes this very different from the Russian example and others is that we have an enabler in China with cyber hacking that is akin to what we have with terrorism. And if you don't get at the enabler, you're not really shaping the behavior of the target. KEILAR: Gordon, when you look at this list of individuals, there are a lot of people who work for KOMID. It's North Korea's primary arms dealer. They hold these positions in North Korea.
Do we know anything about them?
Do any of the names stick out to you?
CHANG: None of the names really stick out. I mean some of them are important, but they're not ones that are internationally well known. And I think what the Obama administration is trying to do here is that these sanctions won't be effective, but they're intentionally not effective. They're most basically a shot across the bow, hoping that North Korea will not retaliate.
And that's going to be a very interesting thing to see over the next weeks and months, because North Korea is probably not going to take this lying down.
KEILAR: OK. So a shot across the bow. We expect that they are going to react, as you say.
Stephen, what do you think?
How will they react to this?
YATES: Well, if history is a guide, they will retaliate in some way. I mean we've had multiple instances of when the North Korean regime is unhappy, that they will test a missile, they will fire at an offshore island on the South. They can detonate a nuclear capable device. They've now, according to the allegations of the FBI, engaged in cyber attacks.
There's no reason to believe they wouldn't react if we have gone after their leadership.
KEILAR: And what is the role, if you could quickly tell us, with China and really what China wants to see in what seems to be a back and forth that's going on here?
YATES: Well, there's really only been one moment in history when China really used compellence to bring North Korea to negotiations and that's when we had sanctions on Banco Delta Asia and were looking at the Bank of China in Macau. And when China's financial interests were at stake, it used its influence to make North Korea heel. That is the only way we've even ever had indirect impact on North Korea.
KEILAR: And yet, Gordon, what do you think about whether these sanctions, and maybe further actions by the U.S., that we'll see, how this will really affect the situation, sending a message to North Korea that cyber hacking isn't effective, if China isn't brought into the equation?
CHANG: Yes, China needs to be brought into the equation because more than half of North Korea's cyber warriors are actually based in China. And these attacks against Sony Pictures Entertainment were routed through Chinese IP addresses, which means that Beijing knew what was going on. So that's really a big omission, as Steve points out.
And do you think -- I mean how concerned -- you sort of listed a number of things there, Stephen, a range of things that North Korea could do.
How concerned should we be?
What do you think the worst thing they could do would be?
YATES: Well, it's hard to imagine what the worst thing could be. They're not a regime that's known for going low. They go big.
And so I think that we have to be very, very concerned about what this uncertain leadership would do. We're dealing with a guy who, after he took over leadership in North Korea, disappeared for periods of time. We didn't know where he was or what was going on. So with nuclear weapons in the mix, missiles, unstable regime, cyberattacks, it's already a bad -- bad mix.
KEILAR: I want to put this question to both of you. Maybe this is nothing. But I know a lot of people have noticed that Kim Jong-un's appearance has altered a little bit lately. His eyebrows have become much narrower. Is there any symbolism to this change in look, or is this just some aesthetic change that we shouldn't read into? What do you think, Gordon?
CHANG: Yes, this is important, because Kim Jong-un, when he took over in 2011, was actually fattened up to make himself look like his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. And that derives a lot of legitimacy.
So this eyebrow change is important. And I think what it says is there's some uncertainty and instability in the regime.
You've got to remember that the New Year's Eve statement from North Korea actually talked about the virtues of killing North Korea's internal enemies, and that's almost an unprecedented statement for the Kim regime, which takes the position that everybody in North Korea loves Kim Jong-un.
KEILAR: Well, that is some sort of message some eyebrows are sending there, Stephen.
YATES: It is. But North Korea is unlike any other country on the planet. This is probably the most pulverized polity anywhere in human history. And so we're left, in many ways, reading tea leaves and these kinds of signals. And unfortunately for the people of North Korea, there's a lot of reality to what Gordon was talking about.
KEILAR: Yes. This was a great discussion, gentlemen. Thank you so much. Gordon Chang, Stephen Yates, appreciate you both being with us. And next, major new developments in the crash of AirAsia Flight 8501.
Dozens more bodies have been pulled from the Java Sea. Are searchers getting close to finding the plane itself?
Plus, the most significant piece of wreckage recovered so far. What does a window panel reveal about what may have brought down this plane?
KEILAR: New details in the crash of AirAsia Flight 8501, including more bodies recovered. A total of 30 so far. And also a window panel that appears to be a piece of the fuselage.
Russia has now joined the recovery effort, dispatching two planes and almost two dozen divers. And now the search for the plane and the all-important black boxes is narrowing.
CNN's David Molko is in Surabaya, Indonesia, where the flight originated.
David, what's the latest that you're hearing there?
DAVID MOLKO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna.
The sun has just risen here on Saturday morning here in Indonesia. Day five of the search-and-recovery efforts. Out in the search zone, we expect things to ramp up. A lot of progress made but clear that a lot of hard work still lies ahead.
MOLKO (voice-over): For the first time, recovery of actual parts after AirAsia 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 to just over 2,000 square miles, slightly smaller than the size of Delaware. Crews are desperately listening for a sound like this...
(SOUND OF TICKING)
MOLKO: ... 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 en route to a hospital. Authorities are also making progress identifying the victims. One of the first, flight attendant Khairunisa Haidar Fauzi, or Nisa, as she was affectionately known by her family, including her father, Haidar, and mother, Rohana. HAIDAR FAUZI, FATHER OF KHAIRUNISA HAIDAR FAUZI (through translator):
Nisa is an obedient daughter. She's always tidy. She loves to learn. Lots of her friends love her.
MOLKO: Pictures from their daughter's Instagram account show a poised young woman with a giving heart, her mother says, and an adventurous spirit that took her hundreds of miles away from the family home in Sumatra.
FAUZI: She knew the risk but she loved this. It was her dream. She loved traveling.
MOLKO: Their reflections and 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 preparations for their daughter's burial as she begins her final journey home.
ROHANA FAUZI, KHAIRUNISA'S MOTHER (through translator): Good-bye, good-bye, Nisa.
MOLKO: What struck me most about the time I spent with Nisa's parents and their family was their strength and resilience, even in the face of such grief.
A little anecdote from her father, Haidar, as well. Nisa's oldest -- oldest brother -- she has two -- has always wanted to fly, as well. He's been inspired by Nisa and wanted to become a flight attendant. And her father says that, if that's still what he wants, then he supports him. Three other victims have also been identified, and here at the crisis center in Surabaya, 158 families still wait for answers -- Brianna.
KEILAR: David Molko in Surabaya, thank you for that report.
Let's get some answers to our questions about this in just a moment with our panel. First, though, I want to talk about weather conditions in the Java Sea. They really could not be worse. They are making this recovery mission just so difficult.
CNN's Paula Hancocks has that part of the story.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Loading up to rejoin the operation, police and search-and-rescue teams prepare for the ten- hour journey back to the crash scene. Last-minute checks for divers facing the grim task of looking for bodies.
Apen Zupendi (ph) couldn't even get into the water on his last trip. The weather made it impossible. "This is my life," he says. "It's just too much of a risk."
With waves of up to four meters, or 13 feet, today's conditions are no better. The regent's chief of police says the weather is, without doubt, the biggest obstacle in finding these victims.
"I'd like to tell the families we are doing our best to get their loved ones out," he says. "We apologize if it's taking longer than hoped."
A search-and-rescue boat docks nearby, returning from a day near the crash site. The captain says they will not stop searching until everyone is found.
"We were supposed to collect some debris from a Singaporean ship near the site," he says, "but we gave up because the weather was too bad to do the hand-off safely."
A delivery of body bags for the police ship, then disappointing news.
(on camera): I've just been told that this police boat is not going anywhere today. The weather's simply too bad. Another frustrating day for divers, who desperately want to give distraught families some closure.
Paula Hancocks, CNN, Pangkala Bun, Indonesia.
KEILAR: Let's dig deeper now with CNN law enforcement analyst and former assistant FBI director Tom Fuentes. We have CNN safety analyst, David Soucie and CNN aviation analyst and former National Transportation Safety Board managing director Peter Goelz.
David, I have this sense, I think, talking to a lot of experts, that the fuselage could be found soon. But now I think a lot of people are wondering if that's the case. You have about 24 days, approximately, left on the black boxes' signal. Do you foresee this becoming a race against time?
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: I really do. The weather is not only going to have to stop making waves and making all the debris movement; it has to stop for more than one day. One day is not sufficient. And that's all they're forecasting right now.
So I'm concerned that they'll go out there again; and these professionals who are so committed, you can see it in their face that they really want to find these and really want to put this to rest. But they're just not going to be able to get out there. I'm afraid it's going to take quite some time.
KEILAR: And let's talk a little bit about -- more about this black box. We actually have an example of this here on the table, if we can get a shot of this. There's a voice recorder, and there's a data recorder. And this relatively small item is what searchers are really looking for when they're looking for the plane. Peter, we have transportation officials in Indonesia now saying that
the black box could actually be sent to Jakarta to be analyzed. I think we expected it would probably go to Australia or maybe to France.
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, if Indonesia says they have the equipment and the rest of the team agrees, you know, let it go to Jakarta. The key thing is to get it downloaded correctly and in a timely manner once they find it.
KEILAR: Can -- you think they can do that?
GOELZ: Well, if they say they can, the other folks with them are backing them up. I don't see any problem.
KEILAR: Is there other risks in getting the data? Damaging, for instance, the data?
GOELZ: Sure, there's always some risk, if you're not familiar with the process, of doing some damage. But I think they're not going to take a chance on this. This is too important to their country. If they think there's any question that they can't do it, they'll move it on. But as a point of national pride, if they've got the skill, they've got the technique, they'll do it.
KEILAR: Compared to the Malaysia Air accident, the missing plane back in March, Tom, I think a lot of people are looking at Indonesia and saying, they're doing a better job here when it comes to this investigation.
But there also have been some mixed messages about what has been found and what hasn't been found. One report that sonar had found what appeared to be a plane. And now we learned, "You know what? That's completely not confirmed." Is this an issue?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it's an issue, but when you bring so many different countries with so many different agencies within those countries and pieces of equipment out there, you're not going to be able to keep every single person involved in the search from talking to somebody from the media or from their home country or making phone calls.
So, you know, I think they've done a great job of controlling the message, considering that the bigger the group is that's involved in this, the less control you have over what gets out.
KEILAR: What do you think, Peter, when this data recorder is found by investigators? What's the first thing that they want to find out from this?
GOELZ: Well, if it's the data recorder, they just want to get a complete accurate read-out of all of the parameters. And then they want to synchronize it to the voice recorder and make sure that the voice is synced to what's going on in the plane.
Obviously, it's a very sensitive process. And you've got to show respect, particularly on the voice side, because these are the captain's and the first officer's last words.
KEILAR: Yes. Peter Goelz, thank you so much. Tom Fuentes and David Soucie, really appreciate your insight.
Coming up, wreckage clues: more on the apparent piece of that fuselage that was pulled from the water. What it might tell investigators about the disaster.
KEILAR: It may be the most important clue so far in the crash of that AirAsia flight into the Java Sea. An apparent piece of the fuselage, a window panel now in the hands of investigators.
I have CNN aviation analyst and former National Transportation Safety Board managing director Peter Goelz back to talk with us about that.
So let's take a look at this first, Peter. This is an interior part of the fuselage, right?
KEILAR: OK. So -- and it looks like obviously a window panel. What can you tell us about this?
GOELZ: Well, we can't tell where it's from yet. That would be critical. But what we can see is along the top here and along the bottom, that there's no real compression damage, meaning that it didn't hit -- that it was torn rather than crushed. And you see that there was some sort of tremendous force that tore it loose but it wasn't a compression.
And that's about -- you can see that there's no sooting on it anywhere. So you don't see any evidence of fire. And on the interior, the change in color, that's adhesive from an interior liner of some sort.
KEILAR: OK. So then if it's not a compression, does that tell you anything about the kind of action that the plane might have taken?
GOELZ: Well, for this particular piece, it was torn off.
GOELZ: And, you know, might have come off prior to impact with the water.
GOELZ: It's just -- it's a tantalizing clue. But it's too little to tell much.
KEILAR: Too little to tell at this point. OK. And so then this was also something that was found.
GOELZ: Yes. KEILAR: A compressed air cylinder. What does this tell us? And also
if I can draw attention to this, that's a crack right there that we're seeing in this metal. So what does this tell us?
GOELZ: Well, this is the cylinder most likely attached to the escape, you know, raft and escape slide that was torn loose. And this just shows the tremendous impact force, again, of the -- of the plane. But it does not show compression damage. It's relatively intact. This might have been thrown loose early in the process.
KEILAR: And you think --
GOELZ: Along with the raft.
KEILAR: You think it might have been by the -- by that slide, right?
GOELZ: I think so.
KEILAR: OK. So -- and is it just that this is buoyant or --
KEILAR: OK. So that's -- it's not necessarily surprising that it would --
KEILAR: That it would have. OK. So this one's a little mysterious. What is this? Can we tell? This looks to be a piece of the aircraft. Is it flooring? Is it -- is it a wall panel?
GOELZ: Boy, I've been studying this all day. And I can't place it. It could be a piece of the flooring of the aircraft. I mean, this kind of webbed bottom looks like flooring. But boy, it's too little. You can't tell. And the key thing is I don't see any identifying serial numbers on it. So, I mean, that's -- it's a mystery so far. Somebody else whose interior expertise is looking at these planes might be able to identify it. I can't.
KEILAR: And maybe the Airbus specialists --
KEILAR: That they have brought in.
OK. Well, we'll certainly be looking for more information about this.
Peter, thank you so much.
And I want to bring back now CNN safety analyst David Soucie. Also joining us, CNN analyst David Gallo, he is the director of Special Projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He helped find Air France Flight 447 after it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. And we also have CNN law enforcement analyst and former assistant FBI director, Tom Fuentes, who is with us.
David, to you first, David Gallo, how do you think they were able, the searchers, the investigators, to narrow this search zone?
DAVID GALLO, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION: I think, Brianna, that's a good question. I had that same question myself. But -- and I'm assuming that they did it by where they found the most debris and sadly the most bodies floating on the surface of the sea.
KEILAR: And really that's it?
GALLO: I believe so unless they've got other data that were not -- at least I'm not aware of, that shows that they should focus on that area. It sort of surprised me that they were able to reduce it by that much given that the wind and the waves have been blowing things around for so long. But that's good for them.
KEILAR: Yes. No, it is definitely good to reduce the size of that haystack that they're looking for, for sure.
KEILAR: We're hearing, Tom, from Indonesian officials that some people were reportedly still in their seats, that there were three people that they found who were in a row of seats. Does that tell us anything?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, on a short flight like that, you know, some people may never un-strap their seatbelts so they may strapped into their seat for the duration of the flight and not undo them when the captain says you can get up and use the restroom. So, you know, they may have just still been strapped in.
And then as far as how they stay in that seat and stay intact and attached to the seat, I mean, that's happened in many other crashes. I don't know exactly in this case what that means as far as the crash itself.
KEILAR: David Soucie, if these passengers were strapped -- some of them were strapped to their seats. But if many of them were, how does that impact your theory which you've had that there could have actually been an emergency landing, an emergency attempt to land this plane at sea?
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, I think that it puts a less credible stint on it. I'm sorry, I'm stuttering here a little bit today but I'm a little tired. But at any rate, if the aircraft -- if it came in and it did try to do a flat ditching, it's still possible it would have broke up. And that's what this indicates to me. Because before, if you remember, we had the emergency exit.
SOUCIE: And below that, we had the slide, the door that Peter was just looking at there that looks strange, the floor piece, to me that looks like the cover for the emergency exit on the side of the aircraft, which is that slide that comes out and opens. So it looks -- it looks very much like that to me because it has a slightly triangular shape and exterior and then an interior would be that other color. So I think that's what I'm looking at there.
KEILAR: So this may be more of an indication that there was no attempt certainly to exit the plane by people who were in it?
SOUCIE: Yes, that that slide would have deployed there through that door.
David Gallo, we were talking about this probable area, the new probable area. It's 2,000 square miles.
KEILAR: That's still a considerable amount of area to be searching. How long do you think that will take?
GALLO: Well, let's see, it would take -- if it was a deepwater, it would take a month or more to do something in that area and do it well, to be sure you didn't miss anything. It depends on how they're looking. If they're using sonar with multiple vehicles, it may go fairly quickly. In addition to that, use a towed pinger locater to listen for the pingers. So it might -- make it very quickly but they've got to have cooperative weather. And right now, if they can't get more than a day or so at a time, it's going to take an awful long time.
KEILAR: Yes. And, Tom, that's really one of the issues here with the weather. We're talking winds at sometimes of 35 miles per hour. And that really threatens some of the aerial capabilities here. How important is it to have those aerial capabilities?
FUENTES: Well, it's very important because they need to follow the debris if they can back to where the crash site is, kind of like following the breadcrumbs. The problem here is, you know, that the currents in the Java Sea are such and the monsoon season and the air and the wind, and everything together is almost like searching for breadcrumbs in a Jacuzzi.
You know, the Java Sea, the current scull in a circle, and even with the debris they found, they still may have a very hard time trying to trace backward how are the winds on each day in the eight, nine days that have passed, how have they changed? Where were they? What was the direction, velocity? So it makes it very difficult. If you lose your aerial capability, that's a huge piece to lose.
KEILAR: Are you surprised, David Soucie, that there hasn't been more wreckage found floating or even some that may have washed ashore at this point?
SOUCIE: I would expect some to be washing ashore at this point. But again with the weather as bad as it is, I don't know if they even have people that can get out there to look at the shore from the outside. So I'm not that surprised right now just because of the lack of access. KEILAR: And David Gallo, to you, when you have sonar detection of
something that searchers want to check out or a device really detects anything under water, what are the next steps from there?
GALLO: Well, sonar is an image made with sound. And there's a lot of -- it takes talent to be able to interpret that in some cases, so really the best thing is to have eyes looking at it. In deep water, that means using a robot or a camera device. In shallow waters, that could mean divers but it's not been possible in this case to -- again, to have them on the bottom long enough to make a -- to be able to find these things that they've been looking up with sonar.
KEILAR: Yes. It's been very difficult.
All right. Gentlemen, thanks for your input. Stay with us. We'll be checking in with you a little later in the show.
But coming up, how the latest discoveries in the Java Sea are helping us learn about the AirAsia plane's final minutes.
And at the top of the hour, more on President Obama's decision to begin punishing North Korea for the cyber attack on Sony Pictures. Officials say what happened today is only the beginning.
KEILAR: It is already Saturday morning in Indonesia. The bodies of 30 victims from AirAsia Flight 8501 have now been pulled from the water but more than 100 are still missing along with the plane itself, although it appears to be a significant piece of wreckage has now been recovered.
CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is here with more.
What's the latest?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the U.S. Navy has been lending assistance along with several other countries. But Indonesia is still looking for the break that will help solve the mystery of what happened to Flight 8501.
JOHNS (voice-over): Today what appears to be part of the plane was found. An Indonesian official said it appeared to be an interior panel.
It was 5:36 local time on December 28th when the plane took off from Surabaya bound for Singapore with 155 passengers and seven crew members on board. At 6:12, the plane made its last contact with controllers asking to turn left and climb to 38,000 feet to avoid bad weather. According to one Indonesian official, the request to turn was given the OK, but the request to ascend was denied because there was another plane in the area.
Shortly after that, the plane disappeared off radar. There was no distress call. At 7:55, Flight 8501 was declared missing over the Java Sea.
On December 30th, searchers saw the first wreckage and bodies from the crash, about 66 miles from the plane's last radar position. Since then, the grisly task of recovering bodies has been ongoing. The USS Sampson, a Navy destroyer on duty in the Java Sea, lending assistance on Thursday. But so far no clear answers on what happened to bring this Airbus 320 out of the sky.
Among the theories that the pilots disregarded the order not to climb, that for some reason the plane's engines stalled, that the aircraft traveling too slow to sustain flight dropped into the water like an enormous rock.
The search is being hampered by the severe weather and high waves, typical of the region's rainy season. And the cause of the crash likely won't be resolved until the plane's voice and data recorders are recovered.
A seemingly hopeful sign was the sonar location of what appeared to be a shadow on the sea bed. The best hope to finally identify the plane's final resting place.
JOHNS: No matter how long it takes to pinpoint a cause, Indonesia's air safety record is already coming into focus. It's been years since a major commercial airliner crashed there but the airline business in that country is rapidly expanding, and this accident is just a huge wakeup call -- Brianna.
KEILAR: It certainly is.
Joe Johns, thank you.
Let's get more now with CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien and aviation writer Clive Irving. He's a contributor to the "Daily Beast."
Clive, at this point, rescuers have about 24 days, give or take, to find the black box before the pinger battery dies, before it stops emitting pings. Is that long enough given that you have rescuers getting so few breaks in the weather?
CLIVE IRVING, CONTRIBUTOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. I think it's long enough, but I'd like to draw attention to another point. I think we must realize that the bodies themselves are important evidence. I haven't heard anything so far from the autopsies that have been carried out on the bodies because in the case of Air France 447, the medical examiner in Brazil who examined the bodies rapidly saw that there'd been severe spinal compression in those bodies.
And that gave us a very rapid idea, which could be very important in this case, too, I think, what kind of injuries were sustained, what forces caused the injuries, and so far we've had nothing. In fact, some of the bodies have been released for burial. I'm wondering what the process is for examining the bodies. That each body contains an important clue about the forces that were apparent on -- it's clear now I think, Brianna, that the fuselage obviously was bridged and probably bridged in a very large way because we're getting a steady accumulation of these bodies turning up.
KEILAR: Yes. You think --
IRVING: Air France --
KEILAR: Do you --
IRVING: Air France reports it hit the water at extreme speed, 11,000 feet per minute. We need to know in this case whether it was similar forces because that would tell us a great deal about the attitude of the plane when it hit the water. That's an important thing.
KEILAR: Miles, do you think we'll be getting that information? And also I imagine investigators really in what's a multinational effort here will have looked into that, don't you think?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, one would hope we'd get that kind of information. That should be part of the routine, as part of the investigation. I'm a little surprised to hear that we haven't heard this kind of data coming from the investigative board. Maybe they know something they're not sharing with us. Of course we will ultimately learn this once we get a hold of those black boxes.
That's a data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder will tell us everything we need to know about how the aircraft fell and how it might have broken up, and more importantly, what was going on in the cockpit between the captain and the first officer making the decisions they were making about navigating around the storm.
So I think one way or another, all of this is going to come out. I can't imagine it will be too long before we find those black boxes, but I keep going back to this idea that, you know, here we are in this day and age still chasing down pings when we shouldn't be doing that. We should have some sort of way of capturing this data in the cloud.
KEILAR: And we do, that's the other frustrating part about it, it's just not put into the planes yet. And there doesn't seem to be an absolute rush to do that.
Clive, there is a theory that we've been hearing from some people. I think they've wondered this especially because of the door coming off the plane. And some people have wondered if perhaps the pilot was trying to make an emergency landing over the sea. Do you think that's even possible?
IRVING: Well, it's interesting because when the miracle in the Hudson A-320 hit the Hudson, it hit at a very clever angle so that it caused the least damage to the structure. But even then, the -- as the evacuation of that plane was taking place, the rear end of the fuselage had been breached and water started coming in. So as the people went out the front doors of the plane, the rear of the cabin was filling out with water.
And I wondered in this case if the evidence of that slide, the evidence of the door opening and the first few bodies would be consistent with the rear rows of seats and the flight attendant who would have been in the flight attendant station by that door. And I wonder where the -- as a part of the process of this fuselage breaking up, it would begin -- if it began at the bottom rear, that would suggest that likely Miracle on the Hudson landing, the first part of the fuselage to hit the water was the rear end.
This is speculation, but I'm trying to do reverse engineering and looking at the way which the bodies have appeared. That we've got 30 so far, and in the case of Air France 447, they picked up I think it was 50 in the first retrieval of bodies, and one of those bodies in Air France 447 was that of the captain.
KEILAR: And that's pretty interesting, Miles. I wonder what you think about that especially since the maintenance kit was found, and I believe that's stored in the back of the plane.
O'BRIEN: You know, I just don't put a lot of credence into this idea that somehow this was a controlled ditching. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I think if, in fact, this was a pilot, a crew, that was able to control the craft in that fashion enough to glide it down for a landing, which would take some time, it doesn't take too much to push the button on the wheel, and say, we got a mayday here and we're going down in the water.
If you can do as much as to control the plane, you can -- may get off that radio call. So I suppose there's circumstances where they couldn't make the call. We can conjure up that idea. But the idea that they flew descending and glided it in (INAUDIBLE) style, I think is -- to me it seems a stretch.
KEILAR: All right. Great input, both of you. Miles O'Brien, Clive Irving, thank you guys. And happy new year to both you, I should say.
Coming up, President Obama follows through on his threat to hold North Korea accountable for the cyber attack on Sony Pictures. And White House officials say today's action is just the beginning.
Plus, that race to find the black boxes. Are crews getting closer to the plane itself?