AC360 Video & Transcript – @AndersonCooper Addresses Comments by State Dept
Tonight on Anderson Cooper 360°, Anderson addressed comments by the State department and explained the handling of Ambassador Stevens’ journal.
Video links below as well as a rushed transcript.Tonight on Anderson Cooper 360°, Anderson addressed comments by the State department and explained the handling of Ambassador Stevens’ journal.
Video links below as well as a rushed transcript.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: “Keeping Them Honest” now on a story involving the death of four distinguished Americans in Libya, involving how well or how poorly the U.S. government handled its responsibility to protect them, involving government transparency or the lack of it and lastly involving ourselves.
360 and CNN have become part of the story and that is the last place I or anyone in this profession ever want to be. We as a program and CNN as a network have believed from the beginning that the focus should be on four key points — on the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11, on what the State Department and others may have known about the security situation the days and weeks leading up to their killing, on what leading members of the government have said about their circumstances of the tragedy and whether their statements have lacked clarity or transparency, and of course, on who killed these four dedicated Americans.
That’s where we’ve always believed the focus should be. However, because CNN discovered Ambassador Stevens’ seven-page journal in what remains of the consulate in Benghazi three days after the attack and because it became one source for some of our reporting, questions about the use and handling of that journal have been raised, as you probably heard.
As you probably heard this weekend, the U.S. State Department spokesman blasted CNN, calling the network’s behavior, quote, “disgusting,” and our handling of the journal, quote, “indefensible.”
Now no one likes to be called disgusting, particularly by a spokesperson for the United States State Department. But we do invite you and them to hold us to the same standards that we hold others and try every night to meet ourselves.
Now out of respect for his family, we have not quoted from his journal, not once. Ambassador Stevens’ journal. It was not e-mailed around the newsroom as the U.S. State Department spokesman said it was.
Now remember, CNN discovered the journal three days after the assault. Arwa Damon, one of the best war correspondents I’ve ever worked with who’s reported for years at great personal risk to herself, discovered the journal.
Why was the journal significant? Well, at the time that CNN discovered it, the Obama administration, remember, was still downplaying the possibility that this was a deliberate terrorist attack, but was instead part of the violent reaction all over the Arab world to that anti-Muslim YouTube video.
This is what they were publicly saying then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a fairly volatile situation and it is in response, not to United States policy, not to obviously the administration, not to the American people. It is in response to a video, a film, that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting. That in no way justifies any violent reaction to it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, even in that early stage, many in the foreign policy and global security community doubted that explanation. The journal certainly raises questions about that. Neither 360 nor CNN rushed to air with details from the journal. We didn’t publicly announce we had found it and within hours of finding it, we informed the family of Ambassador Stevens.
CNN did not publicly announce we’d found it out of respect for the family. Instead, as CNN does with every story, our correspondents and our producers sought as many other sources as we could find and in fact we found three other sources, including one who had a detailed conversation with the ambassador which confirmed much of what we felt important in the journal.
This is how we reported it on Wednesday on this program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: A source familiar with Ambassador Stevens’ thinking says that in the months before his death, he talked about being worried about what he called the never-ending security threats specifically in Benghazi. The source telling us that the ambassador specifically mentioned the rise in Islamic extremism, the growing al Qaeda presence in Libya, and said he was on an al Qaeda hit list.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now no mention there of the ambassador’s journal. Now on Friday, CNN received inquiries from other media outlets who’d somehow had gotten wind of the existence of the journal, and mistakenly believed that CNN had not turned it over to the family. CNN had already done so, and so to be transparent, on Friday’s broadcast, I briefly mentioned the journal.
Now, throughout all of this, we’ve tried to minimize the anguish the ambassador’s family is obviously feeling, balanced against our journalistic duty to inform. Ambassador Stevens held a very prominent and public position and as a news organization, it’s our job to inform you of information that’s important.
This was not broadcasting gossip from the pages of someone’s diary. This was not reporting salacious details of someone’s private life. This was reporting information that could impact the national security of the United States and the safety of U.S. installations in other countries.
We have just learned, for instance, that the Benghazi mission was operating under a security waiver at the time of the attack. That means that typical security standards did not apply, mainly because the compound was temporary in nature.
Now we don’t yet know who made that decision or who was in on it but we do think that people need to know where the process broke down, if it broke down. We think you need to know what happened to U.S. personnel in Benghazi.
We’ve got a lot to talk about tonight with former homeland security advisor Fran Townsend. Fan, as we often mention, serves as a member of the CIA External Advisory Committee. She recently visited Libya with her employer MacAndrews & Forbes.
Also joining us is a former CIA officer Bob Baer.
I don’t want to get into the journalistic details with you, but I mean there’s no doubt — what do you make of the fact that the — this consulate in Benghazi three days after the attack apparently wasn’t being guarded and journalists are wandering all over the place, and anybody could have been wandering all over the place.
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Anderson, lost in the — in the dispute over the journal is the fact that this calls into question the integrity of what is now an FBI investigation. One of the first thing law enforcement officers do when they begin an investigation is secure the crime scene. First and foremost, this is the consulate. Now, they were going to have challenges to that. Right? The FBI couldn’t get in because of security conditions. U.S. personnel, nonessential personnel had been sent home. There were fewer to do that.
But the FBI, frankly, once they opened an investigation, ordinarily should have and may have, we don’t know, but should have coordinated with their U.S. government agency counterparts. If they couldn’t secure it, you ask the host government. If the host government is incapable, we did fly in additional Marines to guard the embassy in Tripoli. Were they — was there military U.S. personnel available to help secure it?
Obviously that didn’t happen. It’s one of those unanswered questions we don’t know but what we do know is the consequences of failing to secure the crime scene absolutely will call into question the integrity of the information that’s gathered there.
COOPER: And, Bob, what does this say to you that this site was not secured?
ROBERT BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, I think the whole thing is just outrageous. I completely agree with Fran.
Look, that consulate was overrun and we don’t even begin to understand what was lost there. We’ve lost crypto, files, money, personal documents. We don’t even know. This administration is not telling us.
The fact that the diary was found in the consulate, and the fact that there wasn’t — you know, I’ve heard that this quick reaction force tried to get to the consulate but was attacked at the airport, Benghazi airport. This hasn’t been confirmed, but what’s happened in Libya is we’ve lost complete control of this.
And every investigation I’ve been involved in, whether assassination or blown-up embassy, there’s always been a local force or Marines to secure the site, otherwise the FBI can’t do its work. It just can’t. If it’s completely wrecked like it was in Benghazi, and I think the reason that the State Department is so sensitive about your finding the journal is because they’ve lost control.
COOPER: And pivoting now, the actual attack, particularly destruction of the so-called Annex where U.S. officials were operating sensitive government programs, how important was that mission, you think, to U.S. intelligence?
BAER: Oh, absolutely vital. That was, as I understand, is where they were buying up weapons, trying to buy up chemical weapons, trying to buy up surface-to-air missiles. It was U.S. intelligence was just getting started in Libya. That’s where they kept their files and as I said the communications gear, which apparently has — no one can explain what’s happened to it.
I mean this has never happened to an American embassy since Tehran in 1979. It’s really catastrophe, it really is.
COOPER: I just read another report by a journalist who was able to get into the Annex also, as they walk around relatively unfettered.
Bob said this operation really hurts the U.S. in Libya. Do you agree with that?
TOWNSEND: No question it really hurts us. I mean, look, we don’t rely on any single installation or capability in the U.S. intelligence community, and so what you have to do now is rely more on all the other capabilities so you’ll have signals intelligence, you’ll rely on the local force but let’s remember, the local force is — was decimated after the fall of the Gadhafi government and so they’re just rebuilding.
You’re not the only intelligence service in Libya so you’re going to have allies who have intelligence networks there, you’re going to have to rely on them. So all of this, but you’re going to have lost this critical foothold in an area, as we’ve all discussed the rising, you know, extremism in the east of Libya, you lose this piece at a critical time.
COOPER: There’s certainly on the good news, in terms of on the ground in Libya, is this rising up against militant groups in Benghazi that we saw last week.
TOWNSEND: Absolutely. Look, Anderson, as I said to you, when I was there at the end of August, I had raised these militias inside Tripoli. I can only imagine how much worse they were because everyone talked about to the east, the growing problem and so if this tragedy has been the impetus to have the Libyans act themselves against the militias, that is a good outcome.
It has to be sustained over a period of time. They’re going to have to be able to fill that vacuum but this is a good development.
COOPER: Bob, though, I mean, I think what a lot of people don’t understand about the intelligence community is just how dangerous, you know, the work of intelligence operatives is in — overseas. I mean you can’t do this from behind the walls of an embassy. You have to get out there and mingle, right?
BAER: Look, Anderson, intelligence is always collected one-on-one. You can’t go out with an armored convoy, with contractors and the rest. You can’t — it’s supposed to be clandestine. So what we have now is a country and this is in other countries in the Middle East where intelligence officers are not allowed outside of compounds.
On the other hand, the locals are loathed to come inside an American compound because they have to pass through local guards and nobody in their right mind is going to take that risk to have a local look at their I.D., be identified as a potential American contact.
And what this is leading to, if the Middle East continues to get worse, is a blindness about what’s going on there and I cannot emphasize enough how serious this is, if this should all turn against us like it did in Libya.
COOPER: You say, Fran, though, I mean it is possible to work with other nations’ intelligence services?
TOWNSEND: That’s right. You just have far less control than you do over your own assets and you have much more difficulty, Anderson, in tasking them against what we call our requirements. That is, we have priorities that we want to have filled. They’re not going to fill our priorities. They are going to fill theirs. Our closest allies will share what information they gather but again, it’s sort of as Bob describes, you become one more step removed and you become a recipient and far less control of your assets.
COOPER: Fran Townsend, appreciate it. Bob Baer, thank you very much.
All this week we’re focusing on the top five social issues that keep Americans up at night. We have been doing this for weeks looking at various issues. The issues that could decide the election. Just ahead, same-sex marriage. Where the candidates stand and how that could help or hurt them on Election Day. Details ahead.