Mitchell Reports | October 10, 2012
>>> after nofour weeks of mixed messaging the state department came out with a different story about the night that happened september 11th . this is a detailed account of heavily armed mill shish las invading the compound. joining me is michael lighter nbc news terrorism expert. michael , what do you know from the -- from your -- excuse me -- from your sources about what happened that night?
>> andrea , i think people are seeing, as the reporting gets more and more clear that this was coordinated, that it was probably independence to protest, but it's still difficult for anyone to know what the exact motivation was. likely associated with al qaeda associated groups, but whether or not it was planned just before the attack, whether or not this was planned for weeks ahead, that's what the intelligence community is still really does not know.
>> at the same time, they had -- they had real-time individual, they te -- video on the security cameras of groups of heavily armed men invading the compound, setting off cans of diesel fuel that the smoke was so thick that the ambassador retreating to a bunker was on the ground, with his security officer , and couldn't breathe, couldn't see, they then retreated further to a bathroom, which had an exterior window, tried to get out through the bathroom. it's a horrendous story. and then similarly, more people attacking them with ak-47s when the surviving four agents tried to drive after the compound was beginning to fall, drive to that an next, maybe two kilometers away. it's very clear that this was very well organized and knew that in real time they were on the phone at the -- from the operations center on the phone with washington and with tripoli, minute by minute. so there was never a question that this was a demonstration or a copycat demonstration.
>> no. i think that's -- i think that's right we know that now andrea . from the video now it's very easy to piece together. i have sympathy for the officials trying to explain what happened, how it happened, how it might have been linked to protests, having lived through more than a few of these terrorism related crises before, trying to get a clear story, know the facts, it always looks so easy and so clear afterwards. but in the midst of this, actually knowing where the attackers are coming, from how organized they are, you're also getting these reports from cairo, now we look back on it and, you know, you can plot out this as a very organized attack and from the very start, it looked like it was not just a protest, that this was an organized effort by an armed group of people to attack the people inside the consulate. knowing that at the time, again, i have sympathy for the folks on the ground it's not entirely clear until a little bit later on.
>> we should stipulate that the, you know, $300 million was cut from the state department 's budget request for security this year alone and they did have five security agents with ambassador stevens when he was there in benghazi. he felt safe. he felt there because he had spent a year there during the war contrary to early reports that were leaking from the hill he had no security. so there's a lot of politics also in play here. you've been around and you can see what's happening.
>> yes. and i'm going to do my best to stay out of those politics, andrea . i will tell you that over two administrations, the bush administration and obama administration, we always knew that u.s. consulates and embassies are absolutely prime targets for terrorist attacks . we've seen this before in the bush administration , we had attacks in the consulate in karachi and pakistan in saudi arabia , in jeddah, in syria, and elsewhere throughout the region. so this is not entirely new. we know the threat is there. i think what we've seen in libya is, obviously a government which still had a real challenge in using its own forces to protect the limited u.s. presence and very legitimate questions now about the degree of security that was there at the embassy. from what i understand, there still was no long specific actual intelligence about this attack, but it's quite clear there was a threat in libya generally, a specific threat that we'd seen over the previous couple months in benghazi, and now obviously the congress and the executive branch have to look hard and see should that security have been heightened, but as you noted, the diplomatic security within the state department has long been a target of budget cuts and it is really hard when you have hundreds of embassies and consulates around the world to know where you should have resources when. after the fact it always seems clear but before it is a lot tougher.
>> michael , thank you very much for your wisdom and experience.