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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Rep. Mike Rogers; Libya Consulate Attack; Egypt's President Speaks; Libyan Attack

Aired September 12, 2012 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, President Obama avows that justice will be done in the killing of the United States ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. But who was behind the attack? The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Congressman Mike Rogers, he's standing by.

Ambassador Chris Stevens risked his life to help Libyans overthrow a dictator and lost his life in the city he helped to save. We're going to hear from those who knew him.

And Egypt's new leader speaking out without one word of condemnation for the attack on the U.S. embassy there. We're going live to Cairo.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The United States is vowing to track down those behind the bloody attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans died after the building was set ablaze by a rocket propelled grenade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not waiver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: U.S. sources say the attack was planned in advance by a jihadist group. The FBI is investigating and dozens of U.S. marines have been sent to beef up security for Americans in Libya.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is on the phone. She's joining us from Tripoli Libya, right now. Jomana, tell us what happened based on all of the evidence, all of the reporting you're doing.

(TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES)

Jomana, I don't know if you can hear me, but if you can hear me, I'll try to fix that and get back to you. I think we've lost connections with Jomana. We're going to get back to her. Let me walk over here. The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, is standing by. He's got -- he's been fully briefed on what's going on. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Based on what you have been told and all the information you have what you can share with our viewers here in the United States and around the world, first of all, who did this? Who killed these four Americans?

REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R) INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: The actual identity we're still working through the final details of exactly. I think we're getting close to being able to identify the group that is responsible for this. But it is -- it was clearly a coordinated attack, a well-coordinated attack, I might add, that was specifically planned to do and accomplish what you saw unfortunately unfold in Benghazi.

BLITZER: Was it an al Qaeda-led or inspired operation?

ROGERS: You can tell by the signature there in the -- you know, for months we've seen al Qaeda in the Maghreb looking for western targets. That was all across Northern Africa. We have seen certain activities that certainly lead you to believe today that it is an al Qaeda affiliated group.

There are still some fuzzy details that I think we'll have resolved within the next few days to have a for sure and for certain. But clearly, it has all the hallmark of an al Qaeda-style event.

BLITZER: Was there any chatter as they say or any indication that something like this was about to happen at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi?

ROGERS: You know, we didn't get the warning you would hope to get in an event like this, so we could have prevented the loss of life, and you know, with a horrible tragedy for losing a U.S. ambassador Mr. Stevens. We think that we'll be able to go back and take a look. Again, we're going to rescrub all of that.

That's what unfortunately we'll need to do to make sure that we didn't miss anything. But I don't believe so. I don't believe there was some smoking gun that was missed leading up to this. And there wasn't that kind of chatter that would lead you to believe that this event was happening on this day with this specific target.

I didn't see anything like that. I don't think our intelligence services have. But we're going back to make that scrub to make sure we understand fully what the picture was leading up to the event and subsequent to the event.

BLITZER: Because it does look at least based on everything I've heard as a pretty sophisticated assassination effort to kill the United States ambassador. So, here's the question, was it time to coincide with the 11th anniversary of 9/11? ROGERS: I'm an old FBI guy, Wolf. And I got to tell you, I don't believe a lot of coincidences all in the same day. So, it certainly looks that way to me. There are differences of opinion as we stand here today. Remember, we're going to have more details. This story will take -- we'll understand all the pieces to this puzzle within days of the event.

But right now, it certainly appears to me that the significance of this date was important. We knew that al Qaeda for years had a fixation on the 9/11 date since the original attack on the United States. So, it wouldn't be implausible to think that they could plan an event. And by the way, an event like this just doesn't come together.

It's not something throw together in a day and say we're going out and do this. This was a very well-sophisticated coordinated event. I got to believe that this was timed to happen on this date, but we don't know that for sure as of today. That's just Mike Rogers looking at what we know from history and what the facts I've seen making that conclusion.

BLITZER: What we're hearing, Mr. Chairman, is that some of the protesters who showed up at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi were upset by this anti-Muslim film that's now out there on the internet. But that this actual killing mission, this assassination attempt and successful assassination plot had nothing to do with this anti-Muslim film.

ROGERS: And I believe that's right. And I would be also careful even on the Egyptian portion of this. That film played a role, but we're not exactly sure if this wasn't an information operation. Remember, in Cairo, there had been protests for some time at that particular place.

There certainly were some extremist groups that we knew were participating and organizing and stirring up those protests. What we saw from the cartoon incident is that when they were published, the violence wasn't really conducted for months after that. And it was because of this information operations conducted by extremist groups to try to use that as a vehicle to get people to conduct acts of violence.

We don't know for sure yet today, Wolf. But I'm highly suspect of the timing of certain issues, questions we don't have answered, and the fact that there may have been an information operation designed around filtering into these protest groups to attack the embassy on that particular day.

Again, we're going to know more in the days ahead. But I would be a little bit -- I would be a little bit hesitant to say it was all because of this particular video that this happened. I think there's a lot more questions we need answered before I'd come to that conclusion.

BLITZER: Yes. And you don't believe in coincidences as a former FBI agent. I don't believe in coincidences necessarily either. So, here's the question, the attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo coming on the anniversary of 9/11, the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi coming on the anniversary of 9/11, is there any connection between these two attacks?

ROGERS: As of today, I can tell you of no connection between those two events. But, again, something could change. Here's the other part of this. Remember, there's encouragement for these franchises of al Qaeda around the world to conduct operations. So, they may get a general, you know, opportunistic command of, hey, on this day, we would like you to do something.

And then, they would take their internal planning from there. So, you can say in some cases that there may have been a general belief that that day was important and they should coordinate any attacks on that particular day without the Egyptian faction and the Libyan faction even knowing either one.

So, there's a lot of areas for confusion here if you're looking at it from the outside. At the same time, there may have been. We just haven't seen it yet.

BLITZER: We're out of time, Mr. Chairman. One quick final question, what does it say to you that the president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, issues a statement but does not condemn the attack on the U.S. embassy in Egypt?

And I raise the question because the U.S., as you well know, provides Egypt with about $1.5 billion, with a B, billion dollars a year in various forms of military and economic assistance.

ROGERS: Well, we're going to have to ask some really hard questions. Remember, this new Muslim Brotherhood-led government violated the treaty really with Israel by putting tanks and heavy armament into the Sinai. They've made pretty sweeping damaging statements to that relationship and made other concrete decisions.

Why wasn't the external security force better prepared and doing more to keep those folks off the wall on our embassy in Cairo? We're going to have to lay on the table some very hard talking points, one of which is the aid that we give to Egypt. Now, I wouldn't rush to take it away.

But we certainly need to make conditional changes here in our relationship with this new Egyptian government if we're going to have a relationship that wants to move forward and doesn't want to degrade and devolve into what could be at least soft on jihadists who are starting to believe that they have the opportunity of to freedom to do acts in places like Egypt and around the world.

BLITZER: Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

ROGERS: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: I think we've re-established our connection with CNN's Jomana Karadsheh. She's on the phone joining us from Tripoli, the Libyan capital. Jomana, if you can hear me, tell us what your reporting has suggested? What exactly do we know happened in Benghazi at the U.S. consulate there?

VOICE OF JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Libyan sources here have been giving conflicting reports of what actually happened. What we know is coming from senior U.S. sources saying it was a rocket propelled grenade that struck the consulate setting it ablaze.

The staff in there were facing a fire inside the building and heavily armed fighters on the outside. We're also hearing that Ambassador Stevens and three other staffers who were killed with him were separated from the other staff members as they tried to escape to the roof of the building. The ambassador and two other employees, including a regional security officer were in a safe room in the building as it burnt around them.

U.S. sources are saying that there were attempts to go back into the building and rescue them, but they were unsuccessful. Foreign Service member, Sean Smith (ph), according to these sources died of smoke inhalation inside the building.

And it also appears Ambassador Stevens managed to escape from the burning building, but it's not clear what condition he was in when he got out and how he died.

BLITZER: I know the Libyan government has condemned the attack, the killing of the United States ambassador and three other Americans condemn the attack on the U.S. consulate. But here's the question, was there a Libyan military or police presence there to protect this diplomatic compound?

KARADSHEH: Yes, Wolf. When this story broke yesterday, we had officers on the scene who were describing what was going on there as a front line. They said that Libyan security forces along with today, we're learning, with U.S. security were -- these attackers, clashes that went on for hours according to these eyewitnesses.

Now, what we're hearing today from the Libyan government, the Libyan parliament speaker trying to reassure the United States and the international community that the Libyan authorities here are here to provide security and safety for foreign nationals and foreign mission in Libya.

Something very hard for people to believe right now especially after this attack and previous attacks that we have seen over recent months targeting foreign missions there in Benghazi, the U.S. consulate itself being the target back in June when a bomb --

BLITZER: Jomana Karadsheh, I think we just lost our connection, but be careful if you can hear me over there. She was joining us on the phone from the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

We're also getting new information that's coming in on how the attack went down. Additional details. Standby. We're going to give you a minute-by-minute account of what happened. And our colleague -- one of our colleagues knew Ambassador Stevens for more than a decade, our state department reporter, Elise Labott, will share some personal reflections.

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BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's also following our top story, the killing of the United States ambassador in Libya. Jack's here with the "Cafferty File" -- jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The violence in Libya has suddenly yanked the spotlight off the economy and put it squarely on foreign policy, at least, as far as the U.S. presidential campaign is concerned. Mitt Romney quick to slam President Obama for his administration's response to angry mobs attacking U.S. diplomatic buildings in the Middle East.

Romney said that a statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo was like an apology calling it, quote, "disgraceful to apologize for American values," unquote. Other Republicans jumped in, blasted the president's "failed foreign policy of appeasement and apology," that's in quote. The White House disavowed the embassy statemen, said they never approved it before it was sent out.

In that statement, the Cairo embassy condemned, quote, "continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims," unquote. All of this going back to that film produced in the United States that some Muslims found offensive. President Obama condemned the attacks, but he said that Mitt Romney has the tendency to, quote, "shoot first and aim later," unquote.

Something Obama said you can't do as president. And others agree that Romney may have jumped the gun with his response. Senator John Kerry called Romney's remarks irresponsible, inexperienced and reckless. He said Romney was wrong to weigh-in before all the facts were known.

As for the voters, they tend to trust the president by a pretty wide margin when it comes to foreign policy. A CNN/ORC survey released this week showed President Obama with a 54, 42 percent advantage over Mitt Romney.

So, here's the question, how will the meltdown in the Middle East affect the U.S. presidential campaign and election? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Let's get a closer look at just how the deadly attack on the Americans in Libya happened. CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us now. Tom, walk us through what you're learning.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The simple truth is, Wolf, as investigators look at this, they're going to study how people, weapons, and a sequence of events came together. Benghazi's a town of about 700,000 people. Last evening, according to various published eyewitness accounts, several hundred began gathering around the U.S. mission there which is in guarded in part by Libyan security forces.

This crowd had been widely described as including members of an ultraconservative Islamist group. Precisely who they were, though, remains unclear. But U.S. officials are certain that within this group was an organized assault force intent on attacking the mission there. As does mob press closer to the building, shots were fired from the crowd. And as U.S. officials describe it, an organized attack with heavy weapons erupted from that crowd.

An expert over at GlobalSecurity.org tells us in all likelihood the rifles being used were AK-47s and Belgian F-2000. The country littered with these from its many years of war. It's also full of rocket propelled grenades. And witnesses say these two were assuming (ph) fired at the building. These have enough punch to knock down doors, maybe some parts of walls.

It's worth noting also however that ever since Gadhafi's fall, there have been many reports of much more powerful shoulder-launched rockets going missing, rockets which could do much more damage if they were used. We're yet to find out if that's the case. we'll find out as time goes on.

In any event, Libyan guards were driven back by the assault. Everyone else was too. Other homemade bombs were then lobbed over the perimeter, we're told. And the attackers charged into the compound. During all of this, U.S. officials believe the ambassador and others holed up in a safe room as mentioned earlier. Then, as it filled with smoke, they tried to escape to the roof.

They ended up caught between the attackers outside and the fires inside. And according to authorities, the ambassador was overcome by smoke. And smoke inhalation is what ultimately killed him. The whole affair beginning to end is believed to have lasted about three hours, Wolf. The repercussions, of course, last much, much longer.

But that's the sequence of events and weapons that investigators are going to study very closely to determine if, as suggested by the congressman earlier, this was an organized assault planned ahead of time and executed last evening.

BLITZER: That's what Congressman Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee clearly suggested. This was a plot. This was a plan that was in the works for some time and may have had direct al Qaeda connections. Thanks, Tom, for that.

We're going to continue to stay on top of this story. There's other news we're following as well including some Democrats who have been forced to apologize for a mishap on the big screen at last week's Democratic convention. You're going to see what happened. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: Chicago's massive public school strike has now hit its third day. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. My heart goes out to all those parents and kids in Chicago.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know that they are certainly feeling it, Wolf. Thousands of teachers, they are back outside picketing today while both sides are back at the negotiating table. Still, apparently, miles apart from a deal that would get 350,000 children back in school.

Teacher evaluations and benefits were initially among the major sticking points. The union represents almost 30,000 teachers and support staff in the country's third largest school district.

And the CDC is warning of an outbreak of illness linked to the consumption of a type of tainted ricotta cheese that's left three people dead and another 14 hospitalized across 11 states and the District of Columbia.

The outbreak is being blamed on the bacteria, listeria. And it may be tied to the company, Forever Cheese, which has issued a voluntary recall for its (INAUDIBLE). Listeria is known for causing food born illness.

And fish oil supplements which have been widely touted for improving heart health may not be as useful as once thought. Researchers for a new study re-examined inconsistent data from 20 previous clinical trials and concluded the supplements were no more effective than a placebo at preventing premature death or serious cardiovascular problems. Doctors continue to recommend plenty fish in its natural state to boost heart health.

And, you know those four giant warships that appeared on screen during the final night of the Democratic National Convention honoring U.S. veterans? They reportedly weren't American ships. According to the navy times, experts concluded the photo composite actually showed Russian ships with trainer jets flying overhead.

The "Navy Times" reports Democratic officials have now apologized for that mistake. And I know, Wolf, they're trying to figure out how did that mistake happen, because that's a pretty big one at the DNC. You don't want to have Russian ships at an event where you are honoring U.S. veterans, certainly.

BLITZER: In this day and age, you know, everybody notices. There are some experts out there who notice everything. And obviously, some experts notice that.

SYLVESTER: And you can go back. You can look at the tape, you can blow things up, you can examine it very closely. So, yes, they've got to watch those things, certainly, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lesson learned. Lisa, thank you.

So, those who knew the United States ambassador to Libya say one word about him, and they're saying it often on this day, the word being optimistic. Just ahead, Lisa Sylvester will -- she'll be back to take a closer look at the man behind the diplomat.

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BLITZER: Just hours ago President Obama ordered the flags at the White House and federal buildings around the country be lowered to half staff in honor of those four Americans who lost their lives in Benghazi. Lisa's back. She's joining us with a closer look at how they are being remembered -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, such a tragic story, Wolf. We now know the names of two of the four victims, the Ambassador Chris Stevens who didn't run from the hot spots of the world. He ran toward them. He had a strong conviction that by getting people to the table they could reach agreement. And then there is Sean Smith, an Air Force veteran who worked for the State Department for 10 years, a husband and father.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Chris Stevens, and I'm the new U.S. ambassador to Libya.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Ambassador Chris Stevens was a 21-year veteran of the Foreign Service. Shortly before he left to begin his diplomatic post in Libya, he made this video. He visited the monuments of slain American heroes who died for a cause they believed in, maybe a bit of foreshadowing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm reminded that we too went through challenging periods when America was divided by a bitter civil war.

SYLVESTER: During the Libyan revolution to oust Moammar Gadhafi, Stevens served as the U.S. envoy to the Libya opposition arriving on a cargo ship in the port of Benghazi.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: He risked his life to stop a tyrant, then gave his life trying to help build a better Libya.

SYLVESTER: Stevens grew up in northern California, attended the University of Berkeley and then joined the Peace Corps in 1983 serving in Morocco. He spoke French and Arabic and spent most of his Foreign Service career posted throughout the Middle East and North Africa. His friends are remembering him today.

JOHN NATSOULAS, STEVENS' CLOSE FRIEND: I knew him throughout my life. And I lost a part of myself today. And I lost someone who actually unconditionally loved just about everybody.

SYLVESTER: Stevens was well-known and well-liked on Capitol Hill. In July Senator McCain posted this picture to Twitter calling Stevens quote, "one of America's finest diplomats who also makes one of the best cappuccinos in Tripoli" -- on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee among his friends senior staffer Manisha Singh.

MANISHA SINGH, SR. STAFFER, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE.: Rather than going to some of the easy posts around the world he was dedicated to working in the Middle East to build a common understanding. SYLVESTER: Also killed during the attack, Sean Smith, a Foreign Service information officer. He was posted at The Hague and in Libya only on a short assignment. Smith has been with the Foreign Service for 10 years. He is survived by his wife, Heather, and children Samantha and Nathan. Smith had a very active presence on the online gaming world of "EVE" online. Both men died doing a mission for their country, Stevens being the first ambassador since 1979 to be killed in the line of duty.

SINGH: This was his calling in life. You know he basically said this is what he was meant to do and he was willing to take the risks. And it's so unfortunate that that risk finally overtook him. It's tragic, but you know, I think he died living out his life's mission.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Two other Americans were killed along with Smith and Stevens. Their names have not been released pending notification of next of kin -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A sad, sad story indeed. I assume at some point they'll let us know the names of these other two Americans.

SYLVESTER: Yes, that's at least what the plan is. I mean I know that earlier in the day they said that they had to notify the next of kin and so that's what we're waiting on. So within the next few hours, next day or so, we should hopefully hear their names as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we -- our deepest condolences to all of their families. Thanks so much, Lisa Sylvester.

A lot of people knew this United States ambassador to Libya. He was well-known especially to some of our own colleagues and correspondents. Our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is here. You knew him for 10 years?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: I did. He's one of the first people I met when I came to the State Department in 2000 as a producer there, Wolf.

BLITZER: And you actually worked with him, traveled with him a little bit. Tell us about Chris Stevens.

LABOTT: Well, Chris Stevens was the -- was a man who everyone knew. He loved Libya. I first traveled with him in 2007. Zane Verjee and I traveled to Libya with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice where he was the (INAUDIBLE) affairs, the head of the U.S. Embassy as it was standing up and we took a trip, for instance, to the ruins, to the ruins of Sabratha (ph). It was the three of us. Just really standing in these ruins right there, Wolf. I mean, it was just -- and I thought what was amazing is Chris saw it and he said, look, this country really has so much potential for tourism. He always saw the good in Libya, the potential in Libya. And he was someone that was seen as having -- this was not a pinstripe diplomat. He was somebody who really got his hands dirty. He rolled up his sleeves and went into the trenches working with the rebels, someone who really always tried to find the good in people.

BLITZER: And so he wasn't just walking around with a suit and tie and having diplomatic --

LABOTT: More like khakis and a t-shirt.

BLITZER: Yes, he really got down (INAUDIBLE) and he spoke the language as well, which is critically important for a United States diplomat --

LABOTT: Fluent Arabic speaker.

BLITZER: He's a fluent Arabic speaker. The -- I guess the mood -- you were at the State Department today, it must be so somber just reflecting on him and the three others.

LABOTT: It's definitely a sad day for the State Department. As Lisa said, since '79 an ambassador killed. But this was really seen as someone who was the cream of the crop of the U.S. Foreign Service. He went to all these hot spots, as his friend said. He was in Syria. He was in Jerusalem at the height of tensions there and really somebody who was kind of an adventurer, really seen as someone who really loved doing what he did and he died unfortunately doing what he loved.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a sad story because he was so helpful in getting rid of Gadhafi, helping the rebels win that war, if you will, that civil war and he pays this price, what an awful situation. Thanks very much, Elise Labott.

Egypt's new leader is now speaking out without -- get this -- one word of condemnation for the attack on the United States Embassy in Cairo. We're going live to Cairo.

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BLITZER: The deadly attack in Libya followed a mob assault on the United States Embassy in Cairo where protesters climbed the walls and tore down the American flag. The trouble may have been sparked by a controversial anti-Muslim film. Now Egypt's new president, the veteran Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsy (ph), has finally, finally released a statement, remarkable though for what he omitted. Let's go to CNN's Ian Lee. He is joining us now from Cairo. Ian, what did President Morsy say?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'm going to read you a bit and I want to put it in two sections. First, I'm going to talk about what President Morsy (ph) said about the film. And then I'm going to talk about what he said about those going into the Embassy, first, again about the film. He says "the presidency condemns in the strongest terms the attempt of a group to insult the place of the messenger the Prophet Mohammed and condemns the people who have produced this radical work." Now this is about the film.

Now this is what he said about the protesters that broke into the Embassy. He said "the presidency also confirms that the Egyptian government is responsible to protect private and public properties in diplomatic missions in addition to Embassy headquarters of various countries." Basically that second sentence not the strong condemnation we saw in the first, basically stating the obvious that every country has the duty to protect foreign missions in their country. So this is a strange -- a mere opposite really of the first statements where he condemns the film and then hasn't really come out and condemned the protest. Although we did see the prime minister and the foreign ministry come out against the protesters breaking into the Embassy. But still pretty soft tone from the president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, glaring omission from that carefully written statement that took them a long time to release. Are you getting any indication, Ian, that what happened in Cairo was actually coordinated with the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya?

LEE: Well, Wolf, the more we're learning about what happened in Benghazi, the more it seems like these were not coordinated at all. When I was on the ground at the Embassy last night, it seemed more like passion, the crowd was passionate. They were going in to Libya -- or into the Embassy not really any organization to it. Mainly it seemed like they were hooligans that were going in with some Islamists to take down the American flag. Really it reminded me more of the breaking into the Embassy -- the Israeli Embassy just almost a year ago that we saw happen when hooligans also broke into that Embassy. That's what it reminded me more of, not something that was coordinated with Libya.

BLITZER: Here's what concerns me and a lot of others in Washington, Ian, and especially those of us who have spent time in Cairo. There's a strong military there, a strong police presence. If they really had any indications this was about to happen, they easily could have taken steps to prevent those demonstrators from climbing those high walls and getting into the Embassy compound. And here's the question, where were they? Why weren't they doing their job to protect this foreign diplomatic mission?

LEE: Well, Wolf, we actually talked to both the Ministry of Interior, which is in charge of the police. And we talked to the military. And the first -- the Ministry of Interior said that they were basically unprepared and they were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers that showed up. And if you go to the U.S. Embassy on any other day, there is a heavy police presence and military presence there. And the police said that they just were caught off guard even though they had warning of days before that a protest would take place. Now, the military said that their presence there was to stop any sort of assault that was similar to what we saw in Libya. They said if militants were to attack it with weapons, then the military would step in. But they said they're not trained to deal with riots and large mobs. They said that's the responsibility of the police. And I asked -- the military said why didn't the police respond or have it set up before the protest. And they basically said that the police were unprepared for this.

BLITZER: Yes, they certainly were. All right, thanks very much, Ian Lee, our man on the scene in Cairo.

The brazen and deadly attack in Libya has many people here in the United States asking this question, how could this have happened? We're going to get some answers. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens worked to help rebuild Libya after the revolution. For Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that only makes his death harder to comprehend. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, many Americans are asking indeed I asked myself, how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and at times how confounding the world can be. But we must be clear-eyed even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now is Professor Fouad Ajami, he's the senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Professor, thanks very much for coming in. Let me ask you the question that the secretary of state just asked. How could this happen in a country that Ambassador Stevens helped liberate?

PROF. FOUAD AJAMI, HOOVER INSTITUTION: You know, Wolf, this region as you know so well is full of heartbreak and full of surprises. And I think Secretary Clinton said it right when you think of the legacy of Ambassador Stevens going to Benghazi and when you think of the American effort to protect Benghazi when that horrible dictator, Moammar Gadhafi announced, put Benghazi on notice that he's on his way to Benghazi to hunt the people of Benghazi to hunt them down, house by house, street by street, alleyway by alleyway, as he put it. And then here you have this fine (INAUDIBLE) devoted his life to this region being gunned down in such a horrible and criminal (ph) fashion.

BLITZER: Horrible indeed. We don't know who is responsible. We've heard various speculation.

AJAMI: Yes.

BLITZER: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers (ph), thinks it has some fingerprints of al Qaeda or at least al Qaeda-inspired affiliate operation. What do you think?

AJAMI: You know, Wolf, I think we have to remember that al Qaeda had a deep presence, actually, in Libya, and we go back to the infiltration of al Qaeda into Iraq a while ago, a few years ago. What we learned when the Americans got the documents, the computer records of the jihadists, they captured some records and what they learned was the largest group of jihadists who came into Iraq to kill Americans and to kill Iraqis came from Saudi Arabia. The second largest group ironically enough -- we didn't -- we don't fully remember -- the second largest group came from Libya. So there has always been an al Qaeda presence in Libya. It was a presence of Gadhafi (INAUDIBLE). It was a presence that Gadhafi occasionally used in the fashion of the dictators of the Arab world. They could wink at terrorism when it served their purposes. So there is a sustained presence of al Qaeda in Libya.

BLITZER: I'll ask you the question I asked Chairman Rogers (ph). Coincidence or not that this occurred on the anniversary of 9/11.

AJAMI: You know I think Chairman Rogers (ph) was absolutely right. One suspects it was really connected to September 11th. And here we are, in fact, we are declaring victory if you will and we've been saying -- everybody has been making the -- you know reminding ourselves that Osama bin Laden is dead. Osama bin Laden is dead. But bin Laden is (ph) still alive and Omar Zawahiri (ph), his deputy is still around, and so you do -- you have to wonder why pick that particular date? And I'm not really that -- I don't give that much credence to the fact that this was connected to this ridiculous and vile movie that was made about the prophet. These groups, these kinds of groups look for any incident. They look for the Danish (ph) cartoon crisis. They look for the -- they look for the release of this movie. They look for whatever Reverend Terry Jones (ph) in Florida does. They are never without reasons to do the deeds that they do.

BLITZER: And what do you make of the mob attack on the United States Embassy in Cairo? And you've been there many times. And the statement that the president, Mohamed Morsy (ph), released today, which did not have one word of condemnation against this mob that went in there and burned the American flag.

AJAMI: You know I saw Mohamed Morsy (ph) go to Iran for a meeting, the (INAUDIBLE) nations. We all watched him when he went to Iran about 10 days or so ago and he spoke passionately condemning the Syrian regime right in front of the Iranians. So he spoke about the Syrian regime and its oppression of the Syrian people, none of that passion. None of that conviction was in that statement. That statement is a disgrace. That statement, I think, is not worthy of an ally. It's not worthy of a country that has been the recipient of American aid for something like four decades. I think that statement needs -- we need to talk to President Morsy (ph) about that kind of statement.

BLITZER: Are you concerned about the future of U.S.-Egyptian relations because as you well know, Fouad, so much is at stake in that relationship.

AJAMI: You know I am, I am and I think you've asked me -- we've talked about this on your program many times. Are we now disappointed, if you will, in the Arab Spring and in the rebellion in Egypt, the topple of Hosni Mubarak. We should remember, we should remember that indeed much that was wrong came our way during the time of the dictators. We should remember that 9/11 -- that 9/11 was the gift, in many ways, of the dictator, when we saw -- when we saw Ayman Zawahiri (ph), (INAUDIBLE) in that attack on us, when we saw Mohammed Atta (ph), the son of an Egyptian lawyer, so things have been wrong long between the United States and Egypt long before the eruption of the Arab Spring. We didn't have a good deal with Hosni Mubarak, but now I think it's easy for people to say it was better under the dictator. It was terrible then and it is terrible today.

BLITZER: Should the U.S. Congress continue to appropriate $1.5 billion a year in various forms of military -- mostly military, but some economic assistance to Egypt?

AJAMI: You know, I haven't really thought about that fully, but I think the time may have come to be brave, to be brave for American foreign policy to risk, if you will, offending the Egyptians and to risk calling this relationship for what it is. And to risk going to the Egyptians and asking them for an alliance, for a friendship worth the investment we have in Egypt. We've never done it. We always feared the chaos. We always feared that if somehow or another we pulled the plug on the Egyptian military that all hell would break loose, but we should have more courage. We should expect from the Egyptians themselves a better deal and a better relationship.

BLITZER: Fouad Ajami, as usual, thanks very much.

AJAMI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Our national security contributor Fran Townsend just saw the U.S. ambassador, Ambassador Stevens in Libya only two weeks ago. Her firsthand account of that meeting and the situation in Libya, that's coming up in our next hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Question this hour is how is the meltdown in the Middle East likely to affect the U.S. presidential election?

Steve writes "Romney looked not ready for prime time. Four people die, including our ambassador and he tries to score political points. He just proved he has no decency."

Jim in Pennsylvania writes "The Middle East will not play a huge role in this year's presidential election. The American public is too concerned about our economic issues here at home to worry about the barbaric acts of he Neanderthals in the Middle East. The only way the Middle East will play a big part in the election will be if one of the candidates changes his stance and tells those countries to take a hike. My vote will go to that candidate."

Pete in Georgia writes "It could make a difference with Independent voters if they look for the truth in how weak President Obama has been defending American values and traditions around the globe. His constant apologies to the lunatics in the Middle East have weakened our position and image there and embarrassed and insulted Americans at home."

Dan in Pennsylvania says "Thanks to Mr. Romney for throwing fuel on the fire even before the facts were known. I hope he gets his just desserts at the polls. I'm a registered Republican, but because of Romney putting politics ahead of truth and patriotism, I plan to change my party affiliation." And David in Tampa says "Not much. By the time November rolls around other events will occupy our limited attention, you know like what reality star is doing what, how far off the deep end some celebrity has gone. Baseball will be over, football driving toward the playoffs and basketball will be getting underway. Not much room in there for anything of substance."

If you'd like to read more on the subject, go at the blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.