staff to cover the desk. in the meantime wolf starts right now. i'm wolf blitzer, 1:00 p.m. in washington, 9:00 p.m. in moscow, 3:00 a.m. friday in pyongyang, north korea. wherever you're watching from around the world, thank very much for joining us. up first a crippling cyber terror attack about to be officially blamed on north korea. an announcement expected as early as today by the obama administration. u.s. officials believe the north korean leadership directly ordered the attack on sony pictures and the fallout from the attack keeps on growing. sony is being criticized by some for canceling the christmas day release of the movie at the center of the controversy. the movie titled "the interview" angered north korea because it depicts a plot to assassinate the north korean leader, kim jong-un. pamela brown is joining us now.
what have you learned about the u.s. linking the attack directly to north korea? because as you know, the north korean government has flatly denied it was responsible and praised all the criticism of the film, but it doesn't -- it insists it had nothing to do with the hacking? >> you're right. the north korean government has denied involvement but we know from sources in early december there was a growing confidence in the u.s. government that north korea was responsible for the hack attack at sony and there were a few reasons why. not only just the motivation because of the movie, but because of the m.o. it was similar to a cyber attack against south korean banks last year as one source said, the techniques, the tactics and procedures were out of the north korean playbook. the coding was written in korean. a growing sense in early december but cyber investigations take a long time. this is extraordinary that we're at a point where the u.s.
government is, we're being told by sources, about to announce atrybution to north korea. as we speak there is language being circulated in the u.s. government on how the u.s. is going to come out and handle this, how it's going to announce it. as we know the big challenge is, what do you do once you points the finger? how do you condemn north korea for this. we know from sources the government is considering a few options, one of which is bringing sanctions against north korea. i'm told that because it's still so early on in the investigation there's not enough specificity to bring charges against individuals. that could come down the road. wolf? >> pamela brown, stand by. north korea's capability to launch cyber attacks more of a threat than its nuclear program. the assessment from a north korean defector who once worked as a computer expert for pyongyang. what about -- what can the u.s. do about all of this? what should the u.s. do? joining us now, bill richardson, the former u.s. ambassador to the united nations, former governor of new mexico, joining
us live from madrid. in washington, jim sciutto and david, the editor of foreign policy magazine, author of the book "national insecurity american leadership in an age of fear." appropriately titled. ambassador richardson, let me start with you. you've dealt directly with the north korean government. are you convinced that north korea is directly responsible for this cyber attack on sony pictures? >> well, i'm not totally convinced, although i'm not disputing the administration's findings. i think the level of sophistication of this cyber attack does surprise me, whether the north koreans have it. you know, when i was in north korea last two years ago with eric schmidt of google and we were talking about bringing the internet there, the north koreans did not seem very sophisticated in that arena. nonetheless, this is very
serious. this is -- if north korea has this capability against a major american corporation would they have it against the american government. the sophistication surprises me. >> hold on a second. they're talking about this at the white house right now. here's josh earnest. >> i can tell you that consistent with the president's previous statements about how we will protect against, monitor and respond to cyber incidents, this is something that's being treated as a serious national security matter. there is evidence to indicate that we have seen destructive activity with malicious intent initiated by a sophisticated actor and it is being treated by those investigative agencies both at the fbi and department of justice as seriously as you would expect.
it is also the subject of a number of daily meetings convened here at the white house that have been led by both the president's homeland security adviser and occasionally by his cyber coordinator, that includes senior members of our intelligence community and security officials, of military, diplomatic and law enforcement officials as well. >> what is the united states going to do about it? >> before we start to publicly speculating about a response, it's appropriate that we allow the investigation to move forward. i do understand that the investigation is progressing, and that as the members of the national security team meet to discuss this matter, they are considering a range of options. as they do so, though, they're mindful of the need for a couple things. first of all, as we would be in any scenario, strategic scenario
like this, they would be mindful of the fact that we need a proportional response, and also mindful of the fact that sophisticated actors when they carry out actions like this, are often times, not always, but often, seeming to provoke a response from the united states of america. they may believe that a response from us in one fashion or another, would be advantageous to them and so we want to be mindful of that too and the president's national security team is mindful of those two important strategic considerations, as they consider a range of available responses. >> a big debate over sony canceling "the interview." what's the president said or expressed an opinion about a movie that depicts the assassination of a sitting head of state? >> i haven't talked to him about that. what i can say is as a general matter, the president and the
administration stand squarely on the side of artists and other private citizens who seek to freely express their views. sometimes those views can be laced with criticism or are sometimes intended to provoke some kind of comedic response or one that is intended to be some element of some pretty biting social commentary. all of that is appropriate and well within the rights of private citizens to express their views. and the president has certainly been on the receiving end of some expressions like that and while we may not agree with the content of every single thing
that is produced we certainly stand squarely on the side of the right of private individual s to express themselves and that is a view that is strongly held by this administration as it has been throughout the history of our country. >> quickly on one other matter, the eu announced some -- a ban on businesses doing investments in cry meimea, can you give us update on the president's plan to sign the bill? >> let me first begin with the russia sanctions bill as it relates to the ukraine, the president does intend to sign hr-58 and 59 into law. signing the legislation does not, however, signal a change in the administration's sanctions policy which we have carefully calibrated in accordance with developments on the ground and coordinated with our allies and
principles in europe. >> we will continue to monitor the white house briefing over there. josh earnest the white house press secretary changing, answering questions on ukraine and russia, sanctions. we'll bring you up to speed on that. eventually he will be speaking on day two of the dramatic announcement yesterday about an improvement in u.s./cuba relations and monitor that as well. you heard him say, no official announcement yet from the administration on who was responsible for the attack, the cyber attack, on sony pictures, although the fbi and justice department are wrapping up their investigation. we have reported here on cnn that u.s. officials have concluded north korea is directly responsible for this hack attack, cyber attack, as it's called and that an official announcement could come as early as today. let's get some reaction to what we heard and i want to bring in jim sciutto our chief national security correspondent and david rothcough and bill richardson with us, the former u.s.
ambassador to the u.n. the proportionate response that we heard josh earnest the white house press secretary say, they're gearing up for a response to what they say is a major actor, we've been reporting it's north korea, they want to make sure whatever the united states does is proportionate. what does that mean? >> they have a range of options. we can look at the way they responded to china as one model what they might do with north korea. china guilty of multiple cyber attacks on u.s. corporations and institutions. naming and shaming. there's a long history of cyber attacks they thought about it carefully and president obama did it with president xi at the sony land summit. it appears they're closed to doing that based on the information we have. another possibility if you get the specificity of the particular actors, the specific actors behind it, you can take the step that the u.s. took with china which is identify individuals in china at this military unit in shanghai, individuals, put out charges
against them. never going to bring them to court but put out charges against them. that's a step they could reach and that has some weight as well, particularly with this regime. likely in the near term is when you think proportional this had an economic cost on a major u.s. studio to the tunes of tens of millions of dollars. the film cost i think $45 million to make. think of economic sanctions and on that list of things to do is going after north korea's access to dollar denominated trade. that's the tactic that worked with iran regarding its nuclear program, it's worked with russia to some degree regarding their activity in ukraine. you could as a quote/unquote nuclear option cut off all action to dollar denominated trade, hit them in the gut, conceivably collapse the state, and punish chinese banks that do the business for them. many steps short of that where you squeeze it like with russia. those are the things on the table. the white house is not there on making a decision. >> you've studied this subject. what do you think? >> i think they don't know what
to do. it's interesting, juxtaposition between the cuba story and this one. the cuba story is closing the last page in the playbook of the cold war. this is opening the first page in the playbook in the cyber era. you heard josh earnings talk a moment ago about protecting against, monitoring and responding to these attacks. we didn't protect against it. we're clearly monitoring it. we don't know what to do in terms of responding. jim's comments about sanctions. this is one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world. there's little we can do to make an economic difference and we're afraid of taking steps that are direct response on the cyber side because they will escalate almost inevitably and get us into potentially a kind of aer permanent cyber exchange with the north koreans. >> i was going to say, administration officials say people have this impression north korea has been sanctioned to the point they can do it no longer but they make the point when you talk about dollar
denominated trade, how the country survives, there are many more steps they can take to squeeze and turn the tap on them. >> i would say one thing, though, it's very important that united states do -- does respond. you can't have kim jong-un censoring u.s. movies. you can't have north korea or others think they can reach in with a cyber hand and all of a sudden shut down artistic freedom or freedom of expression in the united states without the united states doing something to protect. >> all right. i want you to stand by. bill richardson, standing by as well. just ahead, we're going to take a closer look at the north korean army of cyber terrorists as they're now being called working out of a secret bureau and what one north korean defector says about its frightening capability. and later, we go inside the secret meetings that led to a landmark deal between the united states and cuba and the release of the jailed american contractor alan gross. [ narrator ] mama sherman and the legion of super fans. wow! [ narrator ] on a mission
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carry out these kind of attacks. here's cnn. >> reporter: north korean soldiers a techni color parading force against the west. on state-run television, a near ridiculous bravado of the military. but there are unseen soldiers in kim jong-un's cyber war versus the west. they have no face and only known by a number bureau 121. spoo what is bureau 121? they conduct cyber attacks. says jang se-yul. he is a former pyongyang military computer systems worker now in south korea independently attempting to crumble an agency nearly impossible to chase. bureau 121, a shadow agency with an unknown number of the regime's handpicked shadow agents placed in countries around the world, jang believes there are approximately 1800 of them, though he says the agents
themselves don't know how many exist. we can't verify jang's claims about the shadow group but he says he's obtained from a current operative hundreds of financial files hacked from south korean banks complete with names and other bank account details. >> is the cyber war the real war for north korea? raising cyber agents is cheap, he says the. the world has the wrong view of the north korean state. that incorrect world view, north korea was able to increase its ability to launch cyber attacks. south korea learned the hard way. banks across the country were paralyzed, atms frozen for days, media outlets dark, servers jammed or wiped. north korea denied it was the source of the hack but in the wake of the attack, south korea beefed up its own cyber forces declaring the on-line war as dangerous as pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
north korea exists in the land of over the top propaganda while experts say it age wages its parallel war in cyberspace led by a young man of the internet stage, ushering in a new phase of the korean conflict. cnn, seoul. >> amazing stuff. let's continue the conversation with the former u.s. ambassador of the united nations bill richardson. joining us, david rothcough, editor of foreign policy magazine and chief correspondent jim sciutto. governor richardson, i know you've been there several times to north korea. let me play a little clip. this is josh earnest the white house press secretary only moments ago, speaking about what this means, the cyber attack, that cnn is reporting the u.s. government believes north korea being responsible for it. what it means as far as the u.s. is concerned. listen to this. >> back on north korea. you're calling it a national security matter. does that mean you don't skr it
a national security threat? in other words, there might be other attacks coming? >> we have seen -- let me actually step back and say, i know you refer to it as the north korea matter, that's the way it's been widely reported. i'm not in the position to confirming any atrybution at this point. as a general matter the president does view some of the attacks that we have seen in recent years, as a threat to our national security and there is -- there has been an effort under way throughout the president's first six years in office to do what he can do, again, using his executive authority, to try to better prepare our country to defend against those attacks and to respond to them when they occur. >> so he was clarifying earlier. he suggested it was a national security matter, but in things particular answer, to that
question, governor, he said it clearly is a national security threat to the united states. but you've been there several times. and you say you're surprised that north korea has this capability and you were there, you point out, a couple years ago, with the head of google and some experts, some hacking experts, have told me you don't need a lot of capability, you need a few guys who know how to do it and you can cause a lot of devastation? >> well, obviously the u.s. government, many observers have underestimated their capability. it's pretty strong. and when they concentrate their resources on nuclear weapons and military capability and cyber to the extent that they don't help their own people, food, et cetera, that's where the resources are going. this does surprise me also because in the past, the north koreans have said to me, we want
more digital cooperation with america's movie studios. they've said that to me. they do have a movie capability there. it's all part of the kim jong-un empire. so this surprises me too. lastly, the north koreans send these differesignals. some, two, three weeks ago releasing three of our prisoners without apparently too many conditions, sending a signal maybe we should have a dialog. although this is not a direct attack on the u.s. government, it is an important american corporation, so their unpredictability, their irrationality, uncertainty about kim jong-un's motives comes across once again. >> david, it is chilling when you you saw the report, there in seoul, south korea, what apparently the north koreans did to south korean banks, other infrastructure, companies? if they could do it to south korea which is sophisticated in terms of their technology,
presumably they could do it to the united states as well? >> presumably they already have done it to the united states. >> with sony pictures. i'm talking about even more. i spoke to the chairman of the house foreign affairs committee yesterday he was suggesting that the u.s. grid could be potentially in danger. >> true. infrastructure across the united states is at risk. corporations across the united states are at risk. the u.s. government is at risk. when a little bankrupt country like north korea applies its mind to it and can develop capacity as fast as its developed capacity we have a lot to worry about because they're not alone. the iranians, chinese, russians, syrians, all want to play in this game testing our vulnerabilities all the time. one of the key tests of this however is do we respond? do they find that this is a way that they can penetrate our defenses, deliver a blow, and we won't take any action? >> what do you think the united states should do? >> well, i think that the united states has to first of all call them out and if we say they've
done it, i think we have to respond. if as jim says there's sanctions we can impose we should do that. but i don't think we should rule out the possibility of other kinds of cyber responses against them to let people in the world know that we will hold them accountable just as we would hold people accountable for military attacks against the united states. >> in other words, launch a counter cyber attack against north korean infrastructure or whatever? >> i think we have to send a message. we did it with iran with olympic games. we went after their infrastructure. it's a converl topic but there are no rules for cyber war right now. we have to recognize that we are writing those rules as we go. >> i spoke the other day with the assistant attorney general here in the united states for national security matters and he said, it was stunning to hear it, that 90% of american big business corporations, they potentially are vulnerable to what sony pictures has gone through. >> and listen, they have experience with a country like china. think of all the major american businesses operating in china and virtually all of them have
suffered a cyber attack. the risk there is. many have invested money to protect themselves from the risk but this shows you hackers can still break through those sorts of defenses. it's interesting, for years we were focused on north korea's ability to hit the u.s. with a missile. what kind of range did they have, could they shrink a nuclear device to be on the tip of a missile, et cetera. here north korea has attacked the american homeland in a different way but in the first wave of a new kind of war, a cyber war, so they've shown that they presuming the white house does publicly identify them, that is our reporting, they can strike on the american homeland. >> yeah. a lot of people like governor richardson who has been to north korea several times are surprised that they do have this capability, presumably maybe as early as today the u.s. will directly blame north korea. we'll see what the u.s. does. when i was in north korea four years ago, with governor richardson, they took us to one of their computer labs and we walked around. i looked at it and i said, and we reported this at the time, it looked sort of primitive like
1980s radio shack equipment and this was only four years ago. clearly they developed their cyber warfare capabilities over these past few years. >> did you debug your phone after going there? >> i didn't bring one. i was afraid of what was going to happen. i left it home. standby. we will continue our special coverage, celebrations, angry protest, two different reactions to president obama's new policy on cube. so what's behind the dramatically diverse viewpoint? stay with us. hello... i'm an idaho potato farmer
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all right. listen to this, turning to cuba on this day after the dramatic announcement of an improvement in u.s./cuban relations an effort by the president of the united states and the president of cuba to normalize that relationship. only moments ago, this came in to cnn. the republican senator potential republican presidential candidate, rand paul, said he supports, supports president obama's decision to move toward normalization of relations. listen to what rand paul said.
unfortunately we don't have that sound bite but we will get that sound bite. the white house press secretary josh earnest also went one step forward moments ago in suggesting the u.s. may actually welcome the cuban leader to washington. listen to this. >> i guess the point is that the president has had the leaders of both burma and china to the united states and for that reason i wouldn't rule out a visit from president castro. >> last question, going to sneak it in. is the president feeling more liberated after the midterm elections? there's been discussion about that, cuba and climate. what's next? >> well i notice there was a clever headline in a local media outlet describing the president in that fashion, but using the spanish version of that word. what i would say as a general matter, here we are in what is
likely to be my last press briefing of the year, that there has been a tremendous amount that the president has accomplished. >> all right. a little laughter at the end there. you heard the news, not ruling out the possibility that the cuban president, raul castro, could be invited to come to washington, come to the white house. yesterday we heard from president obama, he's not ruling out the possibility of a visit by president obama to havana in the next two years, the final two years of his administration. once again, the other headline, senator rand paul of kentucky, saying he supports the president's decision to move towards normalization of relations with cuba, calling it a good idea and pointing out, he says, that embargo for the past 50 years clearly hasn't worked. let's go to havana right now, cnn's patrick otman is joining us from havana. alina mu chaddo from little havana. a lot of the cubans you've been telling us on the streets there in havana, they're pretty happy about what's going on.
others are suggesting maybe not so happy. what's the reaction that you're hearing on the streets? >> it varies incredibly. many cubans, whether or not they support the revolution or not, or as many are ambivalent see this as a potential, a moment in their lives that could potentially improve the terrible economy in cuba, could improve the terrible state of affairs that many people are forced to live in here, where the average cuban who works for the government only makes about $20 a month, not nearly enough to really survive on. so people barely just get by here, wolf, and see this as a symbol that things could get better. of course, there are others, particularly people who have been opponents to the government, who feel that perhaps washington is turning its back on them an their struggle to create a society here, a democracy here, and really are afraid that if money does pour in from the united states it will be money used to really repress them.
some criticism coming in from well-known dissidents here. going back to the point about raul castro coming to the united states. that's really something completely unprecedented. remember fidel castro would take advantage of the opportunities to visit the u.n. and he did that fairly often over the years. raul castro at least while he's been president never has, he's not someone in terms of cuban officials who knows the united states well. and to see him in the united states much less the white house, would truly be historic, wolf. >> it's an amazing statement from the white house press secretary. who would have thought they're not necessarily ruling out the possibility of inviting raul castro the president of cuba to come to the white house for a meeting of the president of the united states. alina is joining us from little havana in miami. i take it there's been some mixed reaction over there as well? a lot of cuban-americans live in that part of miami? >> yeah. wolf, we've seen very strong reactions on both sides of the issue. on one hand, we have the younger generation of cubans who say,
change is a good thing. on the other hand, we have people who came in the '50s and '60s who went through tremendous amount of hardship when they arrived and they strongly oppose any change without a change in the government of cuba, specifically, the castro government. i spoke with one woman in particular who says her parents sent her to the u.s. in the '60s and on one of those peter pan flights. i want you to listen to what she had to say. >> it hurts me. my family, my country, went through a lot of suffering. my mother had the courage to take me out of that country so i would not become a communist and live that horrible life that they have lived all these 54 years. >> now i want to set the scene for you today here. i want you to walk with me for a moment. not many people out here today in terms of people showing their opinion, especially those who oppose what the president
announced yesterday. we did see, again, people yesterday here, very vocal, very small group, but very vocal, showing their opposition to the change. and perhaps what we're seeing today, the fact that this group seems to be considerably smaller and things have called down quickly here, this could suggest a change in the way that cubans are thinking here in miami, wolf? >> all right. alina, in little havana, reporting for us, patrick oppmann reporting from havana, not little havana, but havana, cuba, thanks very much. up next the super secret meetings that led to a historic agreement between the united states and cuba. who would have believed it? how did it come together in the moments that made a critical difference in getting a jailed american released. i've had moderate to severe plaque psoriasis most my life. but that hasn't stopped me from modeling. my doctor told me about stelara®. it helps keep my skin clearer. with only 4 doses a year after 2 starter doses... ... stelara® helps me be in season.
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states and cuba. . welcome back. secretary of state john kerry is getting ready for a mission, none of his press predecessors have done, re-establishing diplomatic ties with cuba after more than five decades of mistrust and sanctions, part of a major shift in u.s. policy. it was announced by president obama only 24 hours ago. and it all began with the prisoner swap deal that included the release of the american contractor alan gross. let's discuss what's going on. joining us once again from madrid former u.s. ambassador to the u.n. bill richardson, joining us from arlington, virginia, outside of washington, michael crowley, senior foreign
affairs correspondent for politico, david rothcough, still with us. mikechae michael, detail some of the secret meetings, the negotiations that led to not only alan gross' release but led to this new effort to try to actually normalize relations between the u.s. and cuba and we just heard josh earnest at the white house saying they're not ruling out the possibility of inviting raul castro from coming to the white house, the president not ruling out the possibility of going to havana during his final two years. this is dramatic stuff when you think about it? >> yeah. that was amazing to hear josh earnest say that. trying to visualize the president landing in havana is mind blowing. i don't think it's around the corner but how amazing it would be to see that. wolf, the key here really is the secrecy and, you know, it reminds me very much of how they have approached the iran talk. administration officials like to quote a saying they attribute to
madeleine albright, diplomacy is like mushrooms it grows best in the dark. if you get these things started out of the eye of the media and also the congress, so you don't have people taking pot shots from the beginning and throwing up obstacles and second guessing the media along the way and you can get a lot done in private, that's the way to do it and how you have to do it particularly in a media political environment where the response comes in so fast and furious. so they did take this secret approach and it worked for them as it got the iran talks off the ground. >> certainly over 18 months they had the secret negotiations going on with cuba through the canadian government and the white house officials were working to try to get that done. at one point, governor richardson, you went to havana. you tried to get alan gross released. you failed in that particular mission. how surprised were you by what you heard yesterday, not only alan gross's release but the
other prisoners, the spy swap, if you will, that occurred and the move towards normalization of relations? >> well, obviously president obama is looking at his legacy and you need a sweeping initiative like this to establish it. i knew that there were discussions relating to the alan gross issue for the three cuban spies, but i was surprised that it went beyond that. i think what is most significant is the establishment of diplomatic relations, the possible visits but it's all executive actions, wolf, that can be done more visits, more travel, more people to people, diplomacy, remittances, but the one negative is going to be the u.s. congress. there won't be a change in the embargo. the helms burton law of many years ago that passed after the downing of those planes, basically says that the president doesn't have executive authority to deal with the economic embargo issues so
that's going to be in control of the republicans, very powerful cuban-american senators, that's not much going to happen. but this is legacy time, this is a major initiative. i think the first breath is going to be a summit in pan na ma in april where the president and president castro are probably going to meet and i bet you that's when they issue the joint invitations. this is a major initiative that removes as an irritant one of the big problems the united states has had in latin america where every country there has ganged up on us and said, look, do something. this relationship needs to be mended. the trade embargo is not working. i think the president has national support for this. i mean look at rand paul, although he's building a national coalition, there is public support for this change in our policy. >> yeah. the other republican senators support what the president is doing. jeff blake, the republican
senator from arizona told me he was on the mission to bring allan gross on the plane. he believes there will be other republicans that support what the president has done. you've written about cuba including a book on cuba. give us a perspective. a lot of people have said what president obama is doing now as far as havana and cuba is doing, is almost what richard nixon did in opening the door to china, that whole china initiative which stunned the world at that time. >> well, they're both dramatic. the comparison is kind of ridiculous. china is now the other major power in the world. cuba is an island in the caribbean. it's loaded with symbolic value. i think that's what we're looking at. the notion of a castro and a u.s. president together, whether in havana or washington, that's trying and different from the past. you know, the cuba embargo, 53 years old, is a failure. it has not worked at all for decades. it is about time this was done.
it's kind of the u.s. foreign policy, dates back to when the edsall was a car and it is just as successful. i think we have to be careful. the president can go, move into the meetings and then, you know, the castro government hasn't fully changed its character. nine months from now throws somebody into jail, does something objectionable and the president will be open to harsh critici criticism he moved too fast. >> david, thanks very much. bill richardson, good to have you here on cnn. michael kroily, appreciate it very much. we're going to stay on top of this story. push to renew ties with cuba, very bold moves by the president. a closer look at the president's action agenda and how he's shedding what some describe as the lame duck label.
all right. so much for the so-called lame duck label. president obama seems intent op making the most of his final two years in the white house. his go it alone approach has angered a lot of critics but that hasn't stopped him from taking direct executive action. the move to normalize relations with cuba, immigration reform, nuclear talks with iran, climate change agreement with china, all
part of the president's effort to advance his agenda. let's bring in our chief political analyst gloria borger. the m democrats may have suffered badly in the midterm elections a month or so ago. >> you would never know it. >> the president is moving forward as if they had a vote of confidence from the american people? >> in talking to some people in the administration they're feeling as if the president felt very constrained by his tactical responsibilities to democrats in the midterm elections which really means, don't move on a lot of stuff you want to move on until the elections are over because you don't want to give them any headaches. as it turns out they had headaches anyway, wolf, and i think the president now is lookilook looking towards his legacy, saying these are the things i want to get done, i promised you that i would engage with our so-called enemies when i ran for the presidency in 2007 and 2008, so their feeling is he's checking some boxes that he wanted to check all along, but
felt constrained and frustrated that he couldn't do it. he understands republicans are not going to give him much help in the congress. he's doing what he can do through executive action and hoping that he can at least get the ball rolling. >> i've been told by some folks, supposedly on the inside, he goes back and takes a look at what he promised the american people when he was running for the white house, when he came to office, he goes -- obama care, health care, that was a promise, ending the war in iraq, ending the war in afghanistan, not necessarily so sure that those wars are over with but he's pulled out a lot of those tens of thousands of u.s. forces and now he's taking these other actions, there's a risk, though, in the final two years to taking these kinds of actions. >> there is a risk because you're alienating republicans even more than you would have alienated them previously so if there are things you want to get done in the congress and i believe there are things he believes he can get done like maybe on trade or infrastructure, that perhaps
republicans would react differently to him. but i think what's interesting about this is that he's actually also in his own way, setting the table for the 2016 election, causing republicans in many ways to box themselves in on certain issues, such as cuba, which a lot of people believe is a demographic issue more than anything else, that he won 49%, obama did, of the cuban-american vote in the state of florida, and and that he's taking this risk but his thinking is that younger, cuban americans side with him because this story has been playing out for 52 years and it hasn't done so well. that's the risk he's taking. i was thinking about it this morning, wolf. i think he's kind of like clark kent stepping into the phone booth and coming out with the cape and saying, okay, now i'm going to do what i always wanted to do and he's doing it. >> and so we'll see what happens in the next two years.
let's not forget, to his credit, when he took office, there was a huge recession under way in the united states. 800,000 jobs a month the u.s. was losing and he's certainly helped turn that around although the economy certainly not where it should be but it's a lot different than it was six years ago. gloria, thanks very much for that. fighting back, vladimir putin vows to weather russia's economic storm. that and a lot more coming up. ♪
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welcome back. i'm wolf blitzer reporting from washington. the russian president, vladimir putin, blamed external factors for his country's internal problems today during a marathon end of the year news conference. he sought to reassure the world that russia would bounce back and he wanted to reassure his own people. putin promised to diversify russia's economy and praised the central bank of russia's efforts. putin insisted russia didn't cause its own problems. >> translator: quite clearly the situation which has been provoked by external factors above all with the reduction in
foreign currency may possibly be further reduction in oil prices will reduce international currency. we'll get through this period. it's not easy of course, but we will strengthen our position within the world economy. >> while the russian president was speaking, the european union announced tougher sanctions on crimea which was annexed by russia earlier this year in march. and by the end of the week, president obama is expected to sign a bill that would further increase the economic pressure with a new raft of sanctions targeting the russian defense, energy backing industries. let's get a look at what's going on with the managing editor of "time" magazine in new york. the americans are loving the reduced gas prices here in the united states. people all over the world are
loving the reduced gas prices but as these oil prices sink, it's having a dramatic impact on russia, right? >> absolutely. you have to think about russia like you think about a middle eastern oil state. it's a petra dictatorship really. this is an economy that perfectly tracks the rise and fall of oil. if you look at the fall since the summer, the ruble follows the falling oil prices and with 75% of russia's exports coming from oil, that won't change any time soon. as long as oil stays low, russia will be in trouble and putin's efforts to prop up the currency are really quite disastrous. they never work. and they tend to have an extremely negative effect on local populations, which are getting very worried about the state of the economy. >> here's what a lot of people don't understand. at this news conference it was obvious. he answered questions. spoke for three hours and ten minutes without a break. he answered 53 questions from
the news media there. most of the questions referred to the dire financial situation in russia right now. his job approval numbers are in the 80s right now even though the economy is sick over there. people are in trouble. he remains popular. how do you explain that? >> it's a fascinating position. one of the things that's happened not only in russia but many emerging markets is you have a younger population that's very nationalistic and wants to see their country rise in the estimation of the world and putin played on that. he has stoked nationalism. he makes younger people feel that russia deserves a big voice in global affairs but he's not diversified which is a tragedy. there's a skill set in technology and science and a lot of those people have left and gone to places like israel which is why the technology sector there is thriving. putin has done nothing to help his country's economy and despite the three hours of talk,
i don't believe he will now. >> i know the white house just announced that president obama will have an end of year news conference tomorrow. i suspect it's not going to go three hours and ten minutes and he will not answer 53 questions as vladimir putin did today. thanks very much for joining us. that's it for me. i'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "the situation room." for our international viewers, "amanpour" is coming up next. for our viewers in north america, "newsroom" with brooke baldwin will start after a very quick break.
all right. you're watching cnn. i'm brooke baldwin. breaking news here. we have just gotten word of the deaths of three top shelf isis terrorists in the united states strikes in iraq. three major leaders of isis. let me go to washington to jim sciutto, our cnn senior national security correspondent. tell me what you know. >> this coming in moments ago. three senior leaders, these are people who are very high up in the isis organization. very close to the leader. one was his deputy in iraq. another was his military commander in iraq and mosul is key stronghold for isis fighters taken from iraqi forces earlier this year as iraqi forces melted away. i'm told these were the result of multiple air strikes going t