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North Korea Holds Another American in Custody; Flight 370 Cell Phones Data Could Solve Mystery; Mining Data from Disasters; Ukraine Says Russia Wants to Start a War; Students Dead or Missing

Aired April 25, 2014 - 12:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Dennis Rodman aside, it's hard to think of any American who would actually want to seek asylum in North Korea. That said, North Korea is claiming that a man by the name of Miller Matthew Todd, an American, wanted to do just that, and Miller Matthew Todd has been in custody in North Korea since April the 10th.

CNN's foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott joins me. Those are the facts, Elise, what else do we know about this young man?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Ashleigh, very little. We don't even know if his name is Miller Matthew Todd or Matthew Todd Miller because you know in Asia a lot of times people use the last name before the first name. So we're still try to find out information about this gentleman.

What the North Koreans are saying is that Matthew Miller Todd, as they're calling him, 24-year-old American went through immigration, ripped up his visa and threatened to seek asylum, saying he was seeking asylum and shelter in North Korea and that he was exhibiting rash behavior.

A senior administration confirms to me the State Department has been working this case. That's really all we know. It's a very interesting mystery, if you will, certainly, very concerning, given that North Korea has done this type of thing in the past.

BANFIELD: Well, and that does beg the question about timing, a lot of things come out of the blue, as you and I both know. A lot of things come out of the blue with North Korea. Is there anything on the timing to this? Who's representing our interests? Who we dealing with?

LABOTT: Well, the timing Ashleigh is that President Obama next door in South Korea spoke a couple hours ago with the south Korean president park, talking about North Korean provocations, warning North Korea about further belligerent behavior.

There's a lot of concern right now that North Korea could launch another nuclear test, and so if the North Koreans have been holding on to this guy for two weeks, it's very logical to assume that they've been waiting for the president's visit to publicize it. Now, the Swedish government has American interests there with the lack of relations between the U.S. and North Korea. The Swedish talked on our behalf.

They, for instance, are talking with the North Korean authorities about Kenneth Bae, a Korean Christian missionary who's been in North Korea for almost two years. He's serving 15 years in a North Korean labor camp for allegedly trying to topple the government, with his evangelical activities.

Once in a while, the Swedish ambassador is able to visit Mr. Bae, talk to North Korean authorities about him, but it's a concern with the lack of relations between the two countries.

BANFIELD: Other than Dennis Rodman's relation with the president of that country.

Elise Labott, thank you for that. Keep us posted on any developments that come from that bizarre story.

Thanks, Elise.

Question about cell phones, every one of us almost carries one these days, and that is certainly probable on board Flight 370.

But what about all those passengers' and crew members' phones? Wherever they are, do they hold clues to the mystery of this disappearance? We're going to show you something pretty surprising, how experts can still get information from those phones even after they've been immersed in saltwater for days, weeks, maybe even months.


BANFIELD: You have heard probably more than you ever expected to hear about black boxes, particularly the ones that were aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The plane's voice recorders may eventually solve this historic mystery once and for all, but they're not the only source of potential information on board that plane, because there are pretty strong chances that 239 people on the flight had 239 phones, smartphones, give or take. The chances are many of the words and pictures contained on those phones can be retrieved even now.

CNN's Ted Rowlands shows us how it's done.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some of the final messages from passengers on Flight 370 could be with the missing plane at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Unsent texts, e-mails and photos to loved ones. But could they be retrieved if the plane is found?

CHAD GOUGH, 4DISCOVERY: Absolutely. It's a matter of finding the devices and determining what damage was associated with them and handling them properly. ROWLANDS: We decided to see if it's possible by putting this cell phone in salt water.

We turned off the transmission on this phone and then tried to send e- mail and text. Right now I'm going to take some video of the Chicago River and some stills and we'll see if those survive.

We took our phone to Chicago's Shedd Aquarium and met chemist Allen LaPointe and fish biologist, George Parsons. Using water from the ocean floor exhibit, they prepared this pressure chamber for our phone.

ALLEN LAPOINTE, CHEMIST: We have salt compositions right. We have temperature very cold. Not as cold as it will be in the Indian Ocean but pretty close. Now we have a pressure chamber.

ROWLANDS: The plan is to leave our phone in water for a week and see if our test e-mail, text, video and photos can be retrieved.

LAPOINTE: It's 2:30 on April 8th. And we're going to place it into our chamber right now. This is going directly into saltwater that simulates the Indian Ocean.

ROWLANDS: Within seconds saltwater fills the inside of the phone. Eight days later two of our computer forensic experts come to the aquarium to remove the phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can definitely see the salt corrosion building up on the outside of the phone.

It's just whether or not it made its way all the way inside, built up on top of the electronics and whether or not it corroded the memory chip or the data storage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to overflow a little bit.

ROWLANDS: Because oxygen will quickly increase corrosion, our phone is kept in water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just going to keep it in the same water that it was in until we can get it back to the lab and get it in a solution where we can begin to clean it up.

ROWLANDS: A few hours later, at the 4Discovery lab --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look how it just ate the plastic.

ROWLANDS: To retrieve the data, the phone is pulled apart. The board, which includes the memory chip, is bathed in an 80 degree ultrasonic cleaner several times. And any tiny salt deposits are chipped away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most important part. This is where all the data is held and stored. So this is actually looking pretty good. There you go.

ROWLANDS: The chip is then actually removed, using heat. SCOTT HOLEWINSKI, GILLWARE DATA RECOVERY: It was in pretty good shape. So the next step, quite honestly, is to just pop it into an adapter like this.

ROWLANDS: Eventually, there it is. The e-mails I tried to send, the text message, even the photos and a portion of the video we recorded of the Chicago River.

And while our experiment with the aquarium tank is not the same as the Indian Ocean, our experts believe they could also retrieve data from cell phones on Flight 370.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chips are fairly well protected. We were able to get the data off. I think it would be possible.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Chicago.


BANFIELD: First of all, I'm just in complete awe of what I just saw Ted Rowlands show us.

I'm joined here in New York City by CNN's technology analyst Brett Larson.

I was in particular awe when I saw that picture of the remarkable corrosion, look at the condition of that phone, just eight days in saltwater. You were surprised to hear they could get that data?

BRETT LARSON, HOST, "TECHBYTES": I was surprised because electronics and water never mix. It's like water and oil. They don't go together. The problem with electronics and water is that water can cause the circuits to complete when they're not supposed to.

So say the positive and the negative on your battery, they're on two separate sides of your circuit board, but when water comes into the picture, now they're together and that can cause sparks, and salt -- I mean, look at the corrosion on this. And this is only after eight days in that pressure chamber, which is stunning.

But the one thing that we are dealing with in this scenario -- for one, this phone was turned off, so it wasn't on when it went in.

BANFIELD: It makes a difference?

LARSON: It does make a difference in that it was powered down, because again, with the water causing a connection to happen that wasn't supposed to happen, a circuit can jump a breaker can cross over, power can be where it's not supposed to be and that causes all kinds of problems in these electronics.

But the one thing with all our smartphones, our iPhones, all the Galaxy phones, even the Android phones, they're all solid-state materials. There's no moving parts inside them. There's no hard drives that are spinning around that --

BANFIELD: Like our computers.

LARSON: Like our computers. And that kind of stuff can get very damaged and corroded and cause even further problems.

With solid state, you're working with a different level of safety, so to speak. I mean, the black boxes are all solid state.

BANFIELD: So that's great news, I mean, the fact that they're solid state. If they ever get to recover anything, particularly any smartphones from Flight 370 --

LARSON: Right.

BANFIELD: --- will it -- let's say they can get the data and they're not --

LARSON: They can get some data.

BANFIELD: -- more corroded than this, this is eight days, can it tell us where those people have been?

LARSON: It can, if they're able to -- if the phones were on for the whole flight and the phones were able to get that GPS signal, it's cached. It's kept in the phone.

BANFIELD: What about the things that they may have been texting or e- mailing at the moment as they were flying low, or as they were maybe terrified or trying to make those connections? Would those still be there?

LARSON: Those things should be there. If they sent out a text, send out an e-mail, and it's sitting in their outbox, those things will still be sitting in the outbox.

And like we saw in that one instance, the one video that they recovered from the phone that spent eight days in the saltwater, there were some hiccups in the video playback. There were some missing pieces, so we might not get back the whole picture --

BANFIELD: But with 239 --

LARSON: -- we should be able to piece together something that's --

BANFIELD: And let's not forget, they went down at some point between 4,000 and 5,000 feet and there was a connection made between the co- pilot's smartphone --

LARSON: Which is very questionable as to why it was only one phone.

BANFIELD: Maybe he was the only one who knew. I mean, we don't know. That's the problem.

Brett Larson, thank you. Really remarkable information, thank you for that.

Our other big story that we're following at CNN today, Ukraine's prime minister says Russia wants to start World War III.

What is the real situation on the ground? We're going to get a live report from eastern Ukraine, right after this break.


BANFIELD: Ukraine's prime minister says the situation with Russia is leaning towards military conflict. He's talking about 40,000 Russian troops now doing war games near the Ukrainian border with no good explanation as to why from Moscow.

Ukrainian officials say Russia wants to occupy their country and even, quote, "start World War III."

President Obama, today speaking in South Korea, says a fresh package of sanctions against Russia is, quote, "ready to go" and that Russia's president needs to remember that the Cold War is over. The president on a tour that has taken him not only through that country but also heading to further exploits in Southeast Asia. Our Nick Paton Walsh is live, our senior international correspondent. He is in Ukraine.

You know, that is -- those are strong words when you start hearing a Ukrainian official accusing the Russians of wanting to start a third world war. Does it feel that way actually on the ground, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, obviously here, it's very far away from that scale of conflict. But the problem is, all the little tiny points of volatility here, the checkpoint yesterday that the Ukrainian security forces moved against near one of the hot spots of unrest here, Slavyansk.

The suggestion today they're going to surround that town and try to blockade it in what they call phase two of their anti-terror operation. The fact there are 40,000 troops, you mentioned, just across the border who are getting increasingly closer, increasingly mobile, with increasing rhetoric from Moscow, they may feel the need to intervene.

All those little things potentially are flash points that could cause that Russian intervention, that could cause that all-out conflict potentially between much weaker Ukrainian forces and their much stronger Russian counterparts. And then, of course, there's the broad fear that you'd see neighbors feeling they have been dragged in or further issues down the line. That's all very much speculation. That's all potential futurology.

But the issue really is, how do they calm the situation around these flash points with the fact that today we had an explosion in Odessa, way in the east of Ukraine, far away from the trouble here at a police checkpoint. No one injured. And also here, a helicopter at an airfield that Ukrainian troops have retaken near some of these protesters, (INAUDIBLE), that was either taken out by either a rocket-propelled grenade or a lucky sniper shot say Ukrainian military officials. Or one soldier on the ground saying it was a technical fault (ph). There's a drip, drip, drip of violence and explosions here frankly and clashes that many fear anything could set off to a wider issue here. BANFIELD: And as you were just talking, we were looking at some delightful pictures of militant teaching a very young child how to deal with heavy artillery with sandbags behind the child. So clearly the propaganda campaign is in full force.

But, look, the Russians clearly had to have heard what President Obama talked about today with a full new package of sanctions. Do the Russians even hear that? Do these sanctions have any sort of heft? Do they make a difference? Will they?

WALSH: That is absolutely the key question here. Is Vladimir Putin paying any attention? Is he paying any attention to the battering the Russian economy's getting? Their credit rating slipping today. The ruble having trouble. The amount of money the government's having to spend in keeping it afloat. Is he worried about this potential next layer of sanctions that's probably going to target individuals close to him?

But then Barack Obama quite clear, his words, he wants more arrows in his quiver in case the Russians properly intervene militarily here. That's whole sections potentially of the Russian economy. Does he care about that? Does he care about the damage that may do him domestically, or does he have a broader goal here that he's headed towards regardless of the consequences? That's the big question.

BANFIELD: Nick Paton Walsh, live for us in Ukraine, in eastern Ukraine. Thank you for that and do be careful as you continue your reporting there. Excellent reporting.

We also have some new details in the search for those teenagers aboard the sunken ferry. Those details show us just how sad and terrifying those final moments must have been. Some of the victims known only by number. We're going to share their stories while at the same time tell you yet another fact, one more arrest and, yes, it's a crew member. That's coming up next.


BANFIELD: Perhaps the saddest part of the sunken ferry story yet, the divers are finding cabins that are overcrowded with teenagers. They discovered the bodies of 48 girls, almost all of them wearing life vests in a cabin that's only supposed to hold 30. Today, the death toll is 185, but 117 are still missing, and I remind you that most of them are teenagers.

The searchers are trying to reach a dormitory-style cabin where they believe as many as 50 or more girls may be located. The victims who have been found haven't all been identified. But they each have a personal story. And for that, we turn to Kyung Lah in Jindo, South Korea.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are the victims of South Korea's worst ship disaster in decades. But to those waiting on land, they are lost children, teachers and parents. Billy Kim (ph), playfully hula hooping in a Dalmatian costume, grew up in Korea with an American boy's name. The mother says she loved goats when she was little. The unique name "Billy" stuck.

Some are only known by numbers as they arrive shrouded in white. Listed on a white board at the port until their parents name them.

Number 63, a student, with a flower shaped belly ring and Adidas sweat pants. Number 58, another student. This one, a boy. Skinny with pimples, braces, wearing a light green hoodie.

Connecting the young victims is Danwon High School. They were on a four-day field trip, a fun excursion, just before junior year exams for college. Park Ye Song (ph) was 16. She dreamed of being a television screen writer in the future. Lee Suk Jun (ph), age 15, focused more on the present. His dad was out of work. Lee waited tables to help pay his families bills.

Their teachers weren't much older than their students. Kim Cho Wang (ph) teaching her first year at Danwon High School, lost her life. She died on her birthday.

There are many stories of the Sewol ferry's crew abandoning passengers. But not so well known are the quiet stories of the crew's heroism. Forty-four-year-old Ya Dang Hon (ph) called his wife as the disaster unfolded. "The ship is tilting now," he said. "Use the money in the bank for the children's school fees." Before hanging up, he said, "I need to go rescue more kids." His wife never heard his voice again.

A nation's hopes fading. Prayers now comforting families of the lost.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Jindo, South Korea.


BANFIELD: Thanks for watching, everyone. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, starts now.