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Wednesday, October 3

Arwa Damon's staggering account of what she saw inside burned Benghazi consulate (UPDATED 4:15 PM EDT)

Another stunning revelation:
Sensitive documents left behind at American mission in Libya

By Michael Birnbaum
 Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - 3:19 PM
The Washington Post

More than three weeks after attacks in this city killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, sensitive documents remained only loosely secured in the remains of the U.S. mission here on Wednesday, offering visitors easy access to delicate details about American operations in Libya.

Documents detailing weapons collection efforts, emergency evacuation protocols, the full internal itinerary of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s trip and the personnel records of Libyans who were contracted to secure the mission were among the items scattered across the floors of the looted compound when a Washington Post reporter and a translator visited Wednesday [October 3].
Much more in the report, including photos of some documents.
I am rarely at a loss for words but I really don't know what to say here about the evidence that Arwa turned up, except that if not for tonight's upcoming presidential debate, her revelations last night probably would be headline news today in every major press outlet in the USA.

For those who don't know who Arwa Damon is, she is one of the world's best war reporters; she is a Senior International Correspondent for CNN; she's also a fluent Arabic speaker. 

She and her camera crew got into the Benghazi consulate three days after it was attacked and obtained photographic evidence that should have been brought out earlier than last night during her 'debriefing' with Anderson Cooper. I think that was her first interview since returning to the USA. 

She's also the reporter who found the diary that Ambassador Christopher Stevens kept, and which caused so much controversy because he wrote in it of his concern that he'd been targeted by al Qaeda.

Okay; here is the link to the CNN video of Arwa's interview. Below is the transcript, which has an introduction not included in the video, and which goes longer than the video; that last includes Fran Townsend's comments about the interview and an additional  important observation by Arwa, which I've highlighted in red.

Very disturbing reading. So are some of the images in the video, which Anderson warns the viewer about.


Aired October 2, 2012 - 20:00 ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a story you will not see anywhere else. For the first time, CNN's Arwa Damon talks about what she experienced when she first set foot inside the American compound in Benghazi. What the terrible scene was like after the deadly assault that killed four Americans. Evidence she saw that might have been useful to investigators. That is, had investigators ever had a chance to stand where she stood. Indications perhaps that might help locate the culprits.

"Keeping Them Honest," though, nearly everyone and anyone has now been able to gain access to the crime scene, except, that is, for FBI agents, and now for them, it's no longer worth taking the risk to going to Benghazi. But there is at least some indication tonight that enough is known about who did this to begin planning some kind of response.

A senior American official telling us that the Pentagon and intelligence community have begun preparing so-called target packages, detailed information that can be used to capture or kill some of the terrorists who did this.

Now at the same time, though, the administration continues to come under withering fire, especially, though, not exclusively from Republican lawmakers, over the killings and whether they might have been prevented some way.

Members of the House Oversight Committee today sent a letter to the State Department asking for answers in person from Secretary Clinton, leveling serious allegations including these, the attack, quote, "was clearly never as administration officials once insisted, the result of a popular protest."

And more damningly this, quote, "Multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed to the committee that prior to the September 11th attacks, the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi."

The letter goes on to detail a series of attacks and incidents in Libya that formed the basis for those calls for more security resources, resources that the letter alleges were denied by officials in Washington.

We're going to have more on that angle shortly. First, though, Arwa Damon joins me. She's back from Libya, she joins me here in New York. It's very good to see you safe and sound. Walk me back. You were at the site three days after the attack. You have some still photographs that have never been seen before. Describe what we see.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first in these photographs is basically the exterior of the main building at the compound itself. This is the building where the ambassador resided, and the right-hand portion of the building is where the so-called safe room was supposed to be. As you can see, the burning all occurred inside the building itself.

COOPER: It looks -- it doesn't look very touched on the outside.

DAMON: No. Very much a lot of the damage on this building inside, happening inside. The fire burning. There's one part of the building where there's an entrance way into this so-called safe room, that is pretty much just a heavy metal door. That door was shut when we arrived. That's the interior of the building. That was the ambassador's bedroom. That chair right there next to that chair is where we actually found the ambassador's journal.

The doorway leading into this part of the building was shut, as I was saying, this metal door blocking that off. You can see it right there. So there was pretty much no way to get out, because all of the windows at the point where we were there had metal on the exterior of them, except for the one window where the ambassador's body was carried out. That is how we crawled in.

And eyewitnesses who were there said that they had to physically remove the bars from that building, you see it right there. They had to remove the bars from that window to then get the ambassador's body out.

COOPER: How were you able to get access to the site? Was there any security there?

DAMON: No. There pretty much wasn't. We drove up to the main gate. At the time that we were there, the head of the General National Congress was conducting a tour. We walked in, interviewed him, and then spent over an hour on site filming, walking around, looking at things. We were there, the owner of the compound was there along with some of his relatives. There were some security guards, the gardener and then there were a bunch of Libyans rifling through everything and people were telling us that they had full-on access to it.


COOPER: The Libyans rifling through things?

DAMON: Rifling through things, picking up bits and pieces. They had actually laid a wreath earlier on the outside of one of these things. But there's --

COOPER: So other information, there had been classified information, whatever, could have picked up by Libyans and taken away.

DAMON: What we're told is that a lot was in fact taken away. People said that there was a safe that was there that was taken away. But what we also saw while we're there is things that, you know, one would have assumed would have been of interest to investigators had they gone.

The toilet in this safe room suite, as we call it, has a very strange -- what seems to be a very strange blood stain on the side of it. You can see it in the -- in the images right there. We don't know what that is. We don't know what happened but it raises a lot of questions as to what could have taken place.

There's another part in this same area where it looks like a handprint is on the wall that has slid down. Again, a lot of unanswered questions.

COOPER: There's a story that a fire was set, that diesel fuel was poured around the exterior of the room or part of the compound. What -- did you see any signs of that?

DAMON: What's clear is that the exterior of the compound, the exterior of the various buildings, were not set on fire. The burning that took place that we saw all happened on the inside.

COOPER: Really? That's interesting. So what does that tell you? I mean do -- can you -- do you see any signs of RPGs, of, you know, holes in roofs or --

DAMON: There is one hole in the main building that looks like it could have been caused by a rocket-propelled grenade. There is the main doorway into the main building was splintered. It looked as if it had possibly been forced open. There was holes from the walls that looked like they could have been shrapnel, but on the exterior of the buildings, there were not a lot of signs of very heavy, intense damage that would have been caused by rocket-propelled grenades by mortar rounds but we did still see even three days on a number of shell casings on the ground.

And again, other bits and pieces that had been very rifled through, a lot of things had been taken, but there were bits and pieces that could have provided clues.

COOPER: And overall the security situation in Benghazi, and in that area, the FBI, you know, has not gone in. There was concern that they would not be able to -- that they would not be able to set up a perimeter, a safe perimeter that they could actually do an investigation, that mortars could be fired in. What is the security situation like right now?

DAMON: It's very much open space. There still is not heavy security, at least there wasn't when we left there around a week ago. There aren't checkpoints leading up to it, for example. It's very open.

Now could they hypothetically -- and the Libyan government has said that they're willing to provide investigators with security using whatever assets they have, whether it's members of the Libyan army, members of the various militias who they deemed to be even more trustworthy.

COOPER: Could a friendly militia group there seal off a large enough area?

DAMON: Well, the February 17th Militia which is the largest one in Benghazi and arguably the most powerful one is the one that eventually did come to the aid of those who were in the consulate while the attack was taking place. They have offered security and it was members of this militia, in fact, who say that they were the ones who warned the Americans three days before the attack took place that there was a heightened threat against them.

COOPER: I want to bring in Fran Townsend.

Fran -- Fran and Arwa both have been breaking news on this story really from the beginning. As you know, Fran was homeland security advisor during the George W. Bush administration, as we often point out. She currently serves on the CIA's External Advisory Committee and she recently traveled to Libya with her employer, MacAndrews & Forbes. And she had actually met with Ambassador Stevens.

What do you make of the pictures you see of what Arwa's talking about?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, as I listen to Arwa, it just reinforces what we said last week and we've said from the beginning. Investigators have to go there, even if you didn't have all the physical evidence there that Arwa has just described to our viewers. You would want to know from the witness interviews, Anderson, you'd want to know measurements, you'd want to be able to take people through it to really understand what the dynamic was.

But then you see things like handprints and blood samples. I mean one of the things -- the first thing you would do, I'll give you an example, and that is you would take the blood sample off the toilet and the bidet and see whether or not it matched first to the ambassador's. Did he fall. I mean there's all sorts of things you'd want to know.

You know, the pictures we've seen publicly of his body doesn't look like he did, but you don't know. And all those sorts of bits of information, it is true, it would be a less valuable crime scene now because people have rifled through it, but there's always some value and what they're telling us now is that they think the risk is too great in terms of the security, but I have never understood. If the February 17th brigade was there, they were friendly, they were willing, and we trusted them, certainly, before the attack, why we wouldn't have taken them along with U.S. military assets and set up the perimeter that the FBI needed.

COOPER: I mean, even -- I mean, a lot of, you know, people will tweet in and say well, if you were able to get to it, how come some American investigators wouldn't be able to? I guess it's a question of how much time American investigators would want to spend to actually do a full, thorough forensic investigation. TOWNSEND: That's part of it, Anderson, but the other piece to this is, right, they represent -- when the American investigators go in, they represent the United States. There's a certain international respect for journalists. It's not that -- it's plenty dangerous for Arwa to be there but they represent --

COOPER: It would be a heightened target, obviously.

TOWNSEND: A U.S. target. That's exactly right.

COOPER: And I guess part of it, too, is if mortar fire was involved in the initial attack or RPG fire, if they were to come under fire, the investigators, they would want to be able to return fire to take out mortar positions, anti-battery positions, and to do that, you would need a significant, you know, capability to return fire.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. And everybody we've spoken to suggests that, look, if we had to go in, we didn't want to bring in that big a footprint and it would have been difficult for the Libyan government, although cooperative, to agree to that at such a fragile time in the establishment of this.

COOPER: You've got some new information on the U.S. preparing target packages. What have you --

TOWNSEND: You know, Anderson, it's funny, when I read this, I would have been surprised if they weren't doing that. Remember, after the East African embassy bombings, the Clinton administrations launched T-LAMS into training camps in Afghanistan and Sudan. This is sort of part of the usual process, right? You look at the intelligence and the military will prepare and say what targets do we have, what is our basis for making them a target, that is, capture, kill, target with drones, and what is our likelihood of success.

They'll -- also, there's a secondary process of who would we like to have more on, if we had that information, we could prepare better target packages, and they'll levy requirements on the intelligence agencies to go out and get that information for them. And so it's sort of an ongoing (INAUDIBLE) process between the intelligence community and the military community as they prepare in case the president asks for options.

In the meantime, on parallel tracks, you've got Congress, you've got the State Department investigation.


TOWNSEND: And you've got the FBI.

COOPER: Arwa, just -- I mean, you've spent a lot of time in war zones. Is there something about this that surprised you, about what you saw, about gaining access to this site?

DAMON: It was that it was really such a soft target. You would not expect any establishment, never mind a consulate, to have had such a lack of security to it, especially in a place where there had been attacks against the West. The location itself had been targeted and the U.S. was monitoring not too far away, around a three-hour drive away in the town of Berna, and around it, the activity of known extremist groups who, in some cases, are being led with individuals who are directly affiliated, if not members of al Qaeda in and of itself. I mean it was such a soft target.

COOPER: Right.

TOWNSEND: Arwa and I were talking earlier, and the thing that strikes me about that, Anderson, is every counterterrorism specialist will tell you one of the hallmarks of al Qaeda is they return to failed targets. So the USS Cole that was the success, it had been the Sullivan the year before.

COOPER: Right.

TOWNSEND: The World Trade Center in '93, and then back in 2001. The notion that there were at least two attempts at this consulate and nobody made this a really hard target is really a dereliction of duty. And I think that's some of the outrage you're hearing. There's plenty of partisanship going on in Washington, but there's a certain sense of outrage and I think that's part of why Congressman Issa has whistleblowers. Career people are sort of outraged how could we have let this happen.

COOPER: Well, it continues. Arwa, appreciate all your reporting as always. And I'm glad to have you here.

Fran Townsend, thanks.

[Show continues with other topics]

A Hallmark of AQ is they return to failed targets.

which means we should have ambushed them...

B - Yes. They knew AQ was coming back. It was so bad in Benghazi that the British shut their consulate there. I guess this was after the attack on their envoy.
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