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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN
Reports: U.S. Ambassador To Libya Killed; Anti-U.S. Fury In Muslim World
Aired September 12, 2012 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. What started as scattered violence, then escalating violence against U.S. embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, taking a very deadly turn here. Reuters and AFP are reporting that the American ambassador to Libya has been killed in its attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and also reporting the three other State Department workers have been killed, as well.
What CNN can tell you, we have confirmed, a Greek contractor with the U.S. mission in Benghazi telling CNN that he identified the body of Ambassador Chris Stevens in a Benghazi street earlier today.
This contractor does not want to be identified by name for fear for his safety, but he knew the Ambassador Chris Stevens from before. Chris Stevens an expert in the region, someone who has served there in various capacities for a long time.
But most recently President Obama appointed him as ambassador to Libya in May -- Zoraida.
ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and Elise Labott, who is a producer out of our Washington office, gave us really great details about him as a personal man. And we're going to have her joins us again shortly here.
But Jomaha Karadseh was a CNN reporter. She is live in Tripoli, Libya, with all the latest details from there. What can you tell us?
JOMANA KARADSEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): As you mentioned, these are reports coming through news agencies saying that the U.S. diplomat killed in Benghazi yesterday was Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The U.S. Embassy here in Tripoli has not been given much information about this. They are not confirming this report yet. We'll have to wait and see. The Libyan government, too, has not issued any official statements.
But within an hour, we expect to hear from the Libyan prime minister and the speaker of the Libyan parliament who are holding a joint press conference to address this issue. There has been condemnation issued straight away after the attacks took place last night. Saying that this is unacceptable, and this is not what the new Libya is about. This is definitely a big blow to Libya as it tries to re-establish its contacts and relations with the international community.
SAMBOLIN: Jomaha, Reuters is reporting that the staff members and the ambassador were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them. What can you tell us about that?
KARADSEH: According to eyewitnesses on the ground yesterday near the consulate, described the situation there as a frontline. They said that members of a radical Islamic group did show up outside the embassy to protest.
Members of this group said that the security forces -- at them so they retaliated by bringing back their weapons including rocket-propelled grenades that were fired at the consulate building. Clashes went on there for hours, fierce clashes described again as a frontline.
And an intense battle that took place there for hours. So we have no clear details on how this account took place. We also know that there were a number of Libyan casualties in these clashes.
The government officials say at least one Libyan and seven other -- one Libyan was killed and seven others were wounded in the clashes.
ROMANS: All right, Jomana stay with us. I want to switch over to Mona Eltahawy, she is a journalist in Cairo. She was reporting from there. Mona, are you with us still?
MONA ELTAHAWY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, I'm still here.
ROMANS: I want to talk a little bit about the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, someone who was named just earlier this summer in May, but someone who's been in the area for some time. Clearly, he worked with Transitional National Council.
Clearly, he's somebody who knew Arab spring. Knew this country before, during, and after its transition, its transition, and I want to take a look at what the U.S. embassy has said about him. He is someone who has been there at least 10 years according to our Elise Labott.
He is someone who has served with the Senior Foreign Service. He's someone who's been an old hand around there, originally from Northern California. Tell me what this does in the wake of Arab spring for the, I guess the sentiment for people who were looking for some sort of peaceful -- here's what I was trying to read for you.
Ambassador Chris Stevens considers himself fortunate to participate in this incredible period of change and hope for Libya. As the President's representative, his job is to develop a strong, mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Libya. Clearly that strong relationship has been strained. Ambassador Stevens was the American representative to the Transitional National Council in Benghazi during the revolution. This is a sad day for revolutionaries, isn't it?
ELTAHAWY: This is a horrendous day for revolutionaries. Because our revolutions whether in Egypt or Libya or in Syria now, where hundreds of people have been massacred by the Assad regime, they have been revolutions for freedom, social justice and dignity.
Our revolutions have often reminded U.S. administrations that they sided with dictators. And we need to hear more from people like Chris Stevens, who understand the region, and who can convey the message to Washington that to side with a dictator against his people is the biggest mistake.
And right now what we need to understand is that these revolutions continue. They have not finished. Libya is still trying to recover from 40 years of dictatorship. Someone like Chris Stevens understood that.
Here in Egypt we are trying to recover from 30 years of dictatorship by the Mubarak regime. Here in Egypt the Mubarak regime was supported by five U.S. administrations. So it's imperative that we, who belong to the revolution.
And who want to continue our fight for freedom and social justice, we continue with that message and we are not derailed by the fringe right wing. And it's also imperative in the U.S., I am an Egyptian American, so it's also important for people in the U.S. to understand that the right wing in the U.S. must not manipulate this and must not turn this into an election issue.
More people have been killed in Libya. This is not an election issue. We have a revolution there to continue in Egypt. This is not something that we want the right wing to derail because of a horrendous YouTube clip that most people have not seen.
This is a sad day all around for many people, my condolences to the families of those who died. But as an Egyptian, the freedom and social justice we're fighting for in our region, I'm much more outraged about what's happening in Syria and about the neglect of the Bahrain revolution than some amateur horrendous video on YouTube.
SAMBOLIN: But I've got to tell you as we're sitting here and watching the American flag torn down and on burning, and you know we're waking up to the news that there are Americans killed, an ambassador killed which, you know, is just outrageous, can you talk a little bit more about this extremist movement and the minority that it is?
ELTAHAWY: Absolutely. Here in Egypt we have a president who comes from the Muslim brotherhood, which usually considers on the right wing. But now he has moved into the center in attempt to woo U.S. business interests and to better try to represent all Egyptians.
So those who made the call, the majority of those who heed the call to go to the U.S. embassy yesterday belong to the right wing. They are right of this president. And so we had a day of violence from a president who was trying to distance himself from those people possibly.
In Libya, you have a different situation where you have the fringe right wing minority, they are armed. Those in Egypt were not armed. Those who went to the U.S. embassy, but those who attacked the Benghazi consulate yesterday were armed.
This again speaks to the fact that there are many groups on the ground who are armed in Libya and it is now imperative for the Libyan government to disarm these groups and to assert its control over Libya.
This is imperative for the President of Egypt, Mohamed Mursi, to come out and condemn any kind of threat to foreign embassies, because these are considered basically the territory, also, the embassies.
And to make it very clear, to both Egyptians and the outside world, that we will not be derailed from our revolution, and we will not allow a right wing fringe minority to set the agenda for a country that's still fighting against unemployment, poverty and the lack of freedom we've been denied for decades in our region.
ROMANS: Mona, I want to just bring people up to speed who are just waking up in the United States or who are just joining us around the world on CNN international. There are reports that the U.S. ambassador to Libya has been killed in this attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.
And I can tell you that here's what we know. We know that the State Department was notified last night by the Libyan government that an employee of the U.S. consulate had been killed. We know that the State Department confirming that one of its officials had been killed.
We know as well that a German contractor, a contractor to the U.S. mission, contractor working with the U.S. mission, confirmed, actually, that it was that person was confirmed to us that that person was the Ambassador Chris Stevens.
SAMBOLIN: He spent a lot of time with him so he was able to confirm that positively for us. So we have reporters in Egypt. We have reporters in Libya. We are covering the story for you. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back with live coverage.
ROMANS: Breaking news, the American ambassador to Libya has died in that violence against U.S. Consulate that began yesterday. His name is Chris Stevens. There are numerous reports that he is the State Department official the State Department says was killed in that violence.
In to CNN, we have some confirmation from an unidentified Greek contractor, a Greek contractor in the Benghazi consulate who does not want to be identified for his safety. He said he could hear RPGs last night. He said that three U.S. security personnel died with the U.S. ambassador.
He said he saw all four bodies on the street this morning in Benghazi. He says the bodies are now in the central hospital in Benghazi. He added this Greek contractor telling CNN that more Libyans died as well. They were all shot on the spot there.
Now the Reuters reporting is that the ambassador and three other State Department workers were in a car. They were fleeing the attack. They were going to a more secure location from the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and they were hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
They underwent a grenade attack, as they were leaving the facility. We're still waiting for State Department confirmation. We know last night that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that their thoughts and prayers are with the State Department official who was killed in that violence.
But we didn't know who that was. This morning putting the pieces together from various international news agency reports and our own reporting again from a Greek contractor in Benghazi, who was, indeed, Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, the man who was appointed to that post by the President just in May.
SAMBOLIN: Christine, I'd like to bring in Peter Brookes. He is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, a former CIA officer, as well. Mr. Brookes, are you there?
PETER BROOKES, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE (via telephone): Yes, I'm here.
SAMBOLIN: What can you tell us about this situation?
BROOKES: Well, it's very troubling if true and I'm supposed to appear later this morning to talk about what happened yesterday in Cairo and Benghazi.
This obviously is an escalation and you have to wonder whether this is related to 9/11 or to the attacks on the consulate yesterday in Benghazi. But obviously very troubling, if true, and it really reminds us that we live in a dangerous world.
SAMBOLIN: Did you know the ambassador?
BROOKES: No, I did not. I did not know the ambassador, and gosh our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family if this is tragedy true.
SAMBOLIN: Now as you mentioned Cairo and we were taking a look at all the protesters there. We know that we have no confirmation that these two attacks are related.
And we know that this was a protest that happened at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, unlike the gunfire that we're hearing about in Benghazi. Do you think that they are connected somehow?
BROOKES: There's a possibility of it. I mean, you have to realize yesterday was the 11th anniversary of 9/11. And then there's, you know, that that certainly -- I don't know if that's a coincidence or not but they did take time.
They did take place at the same time. Sometimes these groups do work together. But my sense is that they may not be necessarily coordinated, but clearly based on a very important date in American history.
ROMANS: I know, in Cairo what you saw was a lot of flag burning, a lot of very angry protesting. In Benghazi though, there have been other attacks against American and British facilities and personnel throughout the summer, really, and they're armed to the teeth in Benghazi.
BROOKES: We certainly have to pay attention while we're in this very important political season. We certainly have to pay attention to what's going on overseas. There's no doubt about that.
Certainly will remind Americans and we also have to be very cautious in our foreign policies, and of course, in the protection of American citizens and American interests abroad.
SAMBOLIN: And what do you make of this film? Do you think that there is some sort of a connection here with the radical Islamists and what's happening in both places?
BROOKES: I think there's still a lot of rage at the United States in that part of the world. And it's very, very unsettled politically.
You think about it, it's kind of ironic, these horrible attacks on American interests and American citizens after what the United States did, for instance, in Libya, and getting rid of the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. And you know, moving away from the regime Hosni Mubarak. I mean, it's interesting, I think some people could certainly see this as quite ungrateful on the part of these individuals.
I think there's a confluence of different things here. The film, which I have not seen, the 9/11 situation, and the general unsettledness, or general unsettledness of the political situation in that part of the world.
ROMANS: Peter, you have experience with the CIA. You are a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. Clearly, you know the inner workings of the -- I guess, the government angle of this, you know, the embassies.
What do we think is happening right now to American embassies around the world? We're getting no confirmation, nothing from the State Department really. Are they securing embassies? Are they securing consulates around the world?
I mean, what kind of fire drills happening right now, do you think?
BROOKES: There's a lot of fire drills. Obviously the embassies and consulates are very concerned about their security. They will be liaising with local officials to make sure that the embassies are protected. A lot of times the real security comes from local police forces and other security forces in these local countries, as well as the marines that are posted there.
They're also going to be talking to American citizens. They generally have a good list of American citizens that are residents in the cities, where embassies and consulates are in the countries and they're probably going to be reaching out to them and telling them, giving them advice on taking protective measures for themselves and their families.
ROMANS: We probably have to be careful, too -- officials need to be careful of inciting more violence or more attacks against American facilities and Americans around the world at this point. You don't want to embolden people a day after 9/11. You know what I mean? The extremist groups?
BROOKES: Right. And, of course, our intelligence folks are going to be really hustling obviously on the ground, overseas, and over here in Washington, because who knows what's coming next. I mean, in some ways this is kind of like, you know, the 9/11 attack, obviously on a much smaller scale.
The sense what's coming next. Is something else coming next? The intelligence people are going to be really hustling to find out anything they can to see if there's additional in store.
SAMBOLIN: I want you to stand by here for a moment, because CNN has confirmed now that the United States ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed in a rocket attack on the American consulate in the city of Benghazi on Tuesday. So we do have definite confirmation f that.
If we can go back and talk about the situation in Cairo, and Mohamed Morsi not releasing a statement yesterday. What do you make of that?
BROOKES: Well, I think I'm disappointed. We have had a statement on this provisional government in Libya, but I'm disappointed and I'm worried about that. I think that the government of Egypt has to come out and say things that will discourage and deter further actions against American citizens, and American interests.
The United States has reached out to this new government. There are American businessmen were just in town, 100 or so American businessmen to try to increase trade opportunities between the two countries. The U.S. State Department talked about getting rid of a billion dollars in debt that Egypt owes to the United States.
I mean, we've done a lot for them. I think it's important that he stand up. Of course, if I were him -- if I were trying to channel him, he's very concerned about making the Muslim Brotherhood look soft on some of these issues in the space of the actions of these more radical groups in Egypt.
So I think he's got to be, do the right thing and stand up and say the right things about this violence. Protesting is one thing. Violence is another thing. And at this point, I've not seen a statement, and I hope we'll see one soon.
SAMBOLIN: All right. Peter Brookes, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, former CIA officer, thank you so much for being with us this morning and sharing your perspective. We appreciate it.
ROMANS: Again, U.S. ambassador to Libya has been killed. This is according to our own reporting from CNN, from a Greek contractor who saw his body and three others in the street after the rocket attack on the U.S. consulate yesterday in Benghazi.
We'll be right back with more breaking news after this quick break.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ROMANS: Breaking news from Benghazi, Libya, in Eastern Libya. The U.S. ambassador to Libya stationed in Tripoli actually killed in that assault yesterday on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. His name is J. Christopher Stevens. He was named to that position by the President in -- just in May, and it looks as though, from the best of our reporting, he was fleeing the consulate there, under that attack. And he and three others were killed in a rocket attack.
We have spoken with a Greek contractor at the mission who said yes he saw his body and the bodies of three others.
I want to go now to Elise Labott, our CNN State Department producer who can bring us up to speed on what the State Department is not saying at this hour about this attack. We know an official has been killed. That was something that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed last night. We didn't know who it was. It looks as though now, Elise, it was the ambassador.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: It looks now it was the Ambassador Chris Stevens. Originally our understanding last night that it was not Chris Stevens. But it's now, apparently as we've seen from that confirmation, that it is.
This is really going to be devastating, Christine, to the whole diplomatic community, and the whole State Department community. Chris Stevens was one of the most popular ambassadors and Foreign Service officers, really, in the whole department, and he was such a Middle East hand, everybody knew him. Really loved Libya.
He's been working in and out of Libya for the better part of about five years, started in 2007. As the first U.S. official to go on the ground as the U.S. was restoring its ties to the regime Moammar Gadhafi and really trying to build up U.S. political and economic relationships there.
Then when the Arab Spring happened and the Libyans took to the streets against Moammar Gadhafi, he was quickly appointed as the ambassador to the transitional government in Benghazi, really helping them to build the transitional government that could be ready the day after Moammar Gadhafi falls.
And so when Moammar Gadhafi did eventually fall, there was nobody, he was really the only choice that could be seen as the ambassador to Libya to stand up to this new government.
And Christine, I was at his swearing-in. We were at a lot of events before he left. He loved Libya so much.
He felt so warmly about the people there. And he was really helping to get this young, new country back on its feet. And so, it's really going to be not just devastating to his family and friends, but really the whole State Department today will be mourning.
SAMBOLIN: And you mentioned, young -- this is a young guy. I believe it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who referred to him as a young diplomat. He's a career member, senior Foreign Service appointed by President Obama. He arrived in Tripoli in May of 2012.
And as you mentioned, part of the Libyan Transitional National Council during Libyan revolution. You knew him personally. This is somebody, I don't know that you consider him a friend, but when we were talking to you earlier it sure sounded like it.
Can you tell us a little bit about him?
LABOTT: Well, the thing about when we cover the State Department, we cover anything we really try to be objective and not cover these people as friends. But there are some people that you see socially and that you get to know a little bit better -- and Chris Stevens was one of those people. He really reached out to such a wide bunch of people, to really not just be social but also to get their opinions. He always wanted to talk about how we saw the situation in Libya.
He was also an expert on arms control and served in the Bureau of Arms Control for awhile. But I remember when he came back from Libya after his appointment in 2007, he used to say, I want to get back to Libya. I want to get back to Libya -- because he loved the country so much.
Really one of the most popular guys. Really, as you can see from those pictures there, a good-looking guy. Really popular with the ladies at the State Department.
Everyone really liked him a lot. He was just seen as a really nice guy. No agenda. No ego, just wanted to get at the important work of the U.S. government in Libya and around the world.
ROMANS: And we know he was in Benghazi at the U.S. consulate there. We know there are three other people who were killed with him, probably State Department people according to one of our sources. But we're still waiting for State Department -- Elise, we're still waiting for State Department confirmation.
When can we expect that?
LABOTT: I think it's going to be coming in the next few hours. Even sources that I call regularly and are really good about picking up the phone, everybody right now is hunkering down, in meetings. They've been up all night, because we were working on -- they were working on the embassy issue in Cairo, and also trying to secure this facility in Benghazi overnight.
So they've been working all night. Right now, I think what they're going to be doing is not only trying to secure those facilities in Libya, but also I think that right now, before they speak too publicly about what's going on, they want to make sure all U.S. diplomatic facilities, particularly in the Middle East, are secure right now, as we see in those foment of anti-American sentiment and there's a lot of skittish people at the State Department.
I think right now, securing the facilities is going to be important. And then they'll get to the work of confirming and mourning Chris Stevens and the others that were killed.
SAMBOLIN: All right. Elise Labott live in Washington for us.
That picture that you're looking at there is Chris Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, who was killed overnight in attack. We're going to have much more when we come back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ROMANS: Welcome back.
We're following breaking news this morning. The death of the American ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens -- the ambassador was just named to his post in Tripoli in May, but a longtime Middle East hand and someone who, by all accounts, loved Libya. He was killed in that violence yesterday, that violence against U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
One of our sources telling us that our source who said he identified his body and three others in the street in Benghazi. According to Reuters, he was being taken out of the facility as it was under siege, taken out to a safer location and came under rocket-propelled grenade attack while in his car.
The State Department has not confirmed his death, but late yesterday, did confirm the death of one State Department official. At the time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who suffered in this attack.
Still waiting for official confirmation from the State Department that it was the ambassador. Numerous international news agencies report, and again, our reporting on the ground saying that indeed it was.
SAMBOLIN: It was actually, originally unidentified Greek contractor in Benghazi that said that it was indeed him.
And here's more information he gave us. He could hear the RPG attacks last night. He said that the U.S. three personnel died with the ambassador. He said all four bodies were on the street. The bodies are now in a central hospital in Benghazi. He also added more Libyans died. We're trying to get details, how many specifically were killed.
And we want to share with you, that this was on the heels of what happened in Cairo yesterday. This was a U.S. embassy in Cairo -- if we can show some of the pictures of that.
A film -- we're calling it a film that came out. It was created by an American. Those are the pictures right there at the U.S. embassy in Cairo yesterday. And they tore down the U.S. flag, burned the U.S. flag. These are protesters there. It was because of this film, an anti-Muslim film that was created by an American.
And the folks on the ground there saying that we value our freedom of speech, but that they value their religion more. And so, this was a way of protesting that film, at anti-Muslim film.
Whether the two are related or not we don't know, but they were happening at the same time.
ROMANS: We do know yesterday was a dangerous day for American interests in the Middle East.
I want to bring in Jamie Rubin. He was a former Assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton administration. He's somebody who knows the region well. He was watching very closely throughout all of the Arab Spring.
Jamie, after those many, many months of revolutionaries trying to get control of their own countries, this is a sad, very, very sad day for the new dawn in the Middle East, isn't it?
JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE (via telephone): It is terribly counterintuitive, and ironic, that a country that the west did so much to help free from Gadhafi, and the terrible atrocities --
ROMANS: Jamie, we're having trouble hearing you.
RUBIN: It's ironic that this would happen in Libya, where the United States did so much to help the people there, and obviously it's been a long time since an American ambassador has been assassinated in this way anywhere in the world. But to happen in a country that the United States, along with Britain and France, did so much to bring freedom to is terribly tragic.
ROMANS: Let's talk a little bit about what was happening yesterday at the same time. So you had the embassy protests in Cairo, in Egypt, where people were furious, furious. A group of people were furious about what we're calling a film, more like a homemade video that was insulting to Muhammad, the prophet.
Then you take a look at what's happening in Libya, much more heavily armed, much more violent there. People killed. Many people killed in that particular attack. Do you think they're both sparked by this film? Or do you think there's something else going on here? It was on the anniversary of 9/11. RUBIN: Yes, I don't know the specific facts of who would have an RPG and what kind of operation that's involved. Obviously, the protests at the embassy in Cairo and other parts of the world were not with armed military groups conducting those types of protests. They were mobs who got out of control at the U.S. embassy.
But I think the larger lesson here is that the darker side of the Arab spring is that some of the extremist Islamic movements that were kept in check by the dictators like Gadhafi, by the dictators in that part of the world, including President Mubarak and Egypt are now free in an environment where democratic change has come to express themselves. And one of the ways that they do that in Cairo is with these mobs to develop an anti-American theme, contributed to by these crazy Americans who are sparking this. And I think they deserve a lot of condemnation for inciting this kind of, you know, civilizational hatred between the Islamic world and the Western world.
But nevertheless, these mobs are now freer, in an environment where you don't have a dictator in Egypt, don't have a dictator in Libya, to pursue their agenda, with climbing the walls of the U.S. embassy. And I suspect committing terrible violence if they could get their hands on an ambassador.
Obviously, an RPG attack is something very different and we'll have to wait for the facts to find out precisely who was responsible.
SAMBOLIN: You know, we were talking earlier to Peter Brookes, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, former CIA officer, and he made this connection with September 11th. What do you think about that?
RUBIN: Well, it was September 11th. I guess not precisely when this happened, but close to it. Every September 11th, people look to see whether there are acts taking place. The fascination of an American ambassador, it sounds to me as possible that they were staking out the U.S. ambassador and they had the kind of advanced military equipment such as it is, an RPG, a rocket-propelled grenade, that could conduct such an assassination.
So, it's certainly possible that this is a small, local Al Qaeda group that is looking to try to get attention to itself by linking itself to 9/11 and attacking a prominent American target. That's certainly possible.
ROMANS: Jamie, did you know Ambassador Stevens?
RUBIN: I did not know him well. He was a younger group. I knew him as a younger man, but not well.
ROMANS: All right. Jamie Rubin, thanks for checking with us. We know you've been watching the Arab Spring so closely over the past year. It certainly is a disappointment to see that this is --
ROMANS: Elise Labott is here with us. She's our State Department producer. She's in Washington, foreign affairs producer. You know, Elise, you've known him -- the ambassador -- for 10 years. We're still waiting for the official confirmation. Tell us a little bit more about him and the job he was doing in Libya.
LABOTT: Well, really, since 2007, when the U.S. was trying to restore its ties to Libya under Moammar Gadhafi, he was trying to build U.S. diplomatic, political, civil society and economic ties, and then when the Arab Spring happened and he was appointed as the envoy to the opposition, to the transitional government there, he was really trying to help build the institutions that were going to create this foundation for a democratic Libya.
And so, Christine, when the U.S. was -- when Secretary Clinton and President Obama were looking for an ambassador for Libya, not only was he so eager for the job and really campaigned heavily for the job, he was the only choice because he had so many contacts on the ground, knew so much about the fabric of society, about the different tribes, about the different groups.
I mean Libya's a very tribal society. He really took time. He used to have this map in his office of all of these different tribes in Libya, and where they were in different regions. And he just knew so much about the country.
And so, he was really trying to help create the foundations of a democratic Libya, not just the political ones, security ones, economic. He had a lot of experience in arms control, and was helping and securing that arsenal of, you know, a lot of loose weapons in Libya. That's one of the priorities in the country, to continue to secure all those loose weapons. He had a lot of experience in that.
So, really across the board helping to build up this fragile, young state. And there were a lot of concerns about Islamists taking over, but as Libyans were moving towards elections, you would speak to Chris Stevens and he said, I know these Libyan people have a lot of determination, and he wanted to help them get to where they needed to be.
SAMBOLIN: That kind of wraps up his job, right? But on a personal level, what did you know about him and his family?
LABOTT: Chris was known as a really nice guy. He was one of the most popular people in the State Department Foreign Service. He was, you know, really everyone liked him, really good-looking guy, very popular with the ladies. All the girls at the State Department used to talk about how cute he was.
But more than that he was just a nice guy. Loved to just sit and chat about the Middle East, about sports, about northern California, where he was from.
I have family there as well. So we used to talk about how we both wanted to retire to northern California because of the wine country, and the area that he loved so much. And his parents were getting on in years, and so, he was thinking, after maybe this tour, he wanted to spend more time with his family, and certainly as he was leaving for Libya his family was around.
Just really all-around nice guy who cared so much about doing the important work of the U.S. government.
ROMANS: Elise, can I tell you, we've also been monitoring what the Libyan government has been saying right now. Libya's deputy interior minister Wanis al-Sharef had a live press conference from Benghazi where this is what he said happened in these final moments.
He said an angry crowd marched toward the U.S. consulate with their weapons. They were protesting the U.S. stance and the fact that they didn't stop his insulting movie about the prophet from being made. When the consulate security guards heard the gunfire, it seemed as they felt that the consulate was about to be attacked or under attack, so they started to fire from inside the consulate. That led to more anger and this is when the consulate was stormed.
You know among those protesters, the deputy interior minister says that there were those who infiltrated the march to start chaos.
We don't know exactly from the U.S. perspective what happened yet, Elise. But that's what the deputy interior minister is telling people.
LABOTT: Well, that might be all well and good. But under diplomatic contentions, the Libyan government is responsible to help secure U.S. diplomatic facilities, and all the diplomatic facilities of a host country.
So I understand that there was a lot of problems with this video that people had a lot of objections to it. But the first role of host country in terms of diplomatic missions is to secure the country. When you saw Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement this morning, she called the Libyan president as this was going on to talk about the need to secure U.S. diplomatic facilities.
So there will be a lot of discussion, I think, about, you know, what the U.S. role should be now in the region, about U.S. anti-sentiment in the region. But I think one of the first orders of business is to make sure that U.S. -- if the U.S. is going to continue to help Libya, and not only did it help these Libyans get rid of Moammar Gadhafi and stand up a new government, but it's going to continue to help on the economic front, on the political front.
They're going to have to make sure that that the Libyans are going to hold up to their responsibilities to secure diplomatic facilities. And to say that -- to put the onus on the United States right now, I think the State Department is going to find that pretty inappropriate.
SAMBOLIN: Elise Labott, foreign affairs reporter live from Washington -- thank you for all of your insight and perspective.
So the news this morning: J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, has been killed.
We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with much more.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ROMANS: Welcome back.
We're bringing you up to speed on some breaking news out of Benghazi, Libya, where the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Ambassador Chris Stevens, has been killed. He and three other American personnel, we are told, were attacked in a car as they were leaving the Benghazi consulate which was under attack. They were hit by RPGs, their car was hit by RPGs.
And a Greek contractor working at the embassy tells CNN that they saw the ambassador's body and the body of three others in a Benghazi street. We do not have official confirmation from the State Department. We do know that the State Department personnel are hunkered down in meetings.
We know last night that the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement saying that a State Department official had been killed in that violence, but not naming who that person was.
And now, we know that there is great sadness this morning in the diplomatic community, over the fact that this man, who loved the region, loved Libya, wanted to help Libya in its transition into a new -- into a new future, that he has been killed in this attack on the U.S. consulate.
SAMBOLIN: Young guy born in 1960 in California, and said that when he would retire he wanted to head back to California. A lot of personal details about him this morning as well.
But we'd like to bring in Peter Brookes, a former CIA officer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, former CIA officer under the Bush administration I believe that was.
Are you there?
BROOKES: Yes, I am.
SAMBOLIN: So I wanted to read something to you, it's a presser that came out from this. Libya's deputy interior minister, he had a live presser from Benghazi not too long ago and this is his account.
This is what he said happened: An angry crowd marched towards the U.S. consulate with their weapons to protest the U.S. stance and the fact that they didn't stop the insulting movie about the prophet from being made. When the consulate security guards heard the gunfire, it seems that they felt that the consulate was about to be attacked or under attack, so they started to fire from inside the consulate.
This led to more anger, and this is when the consulate was stormed. We were talking earlier with you about what happened in Cairo, in Cairo, Egypt, the protests that were happening there. And it was this anti-Muslim movie that was created by an American, and that's what sparked the protest there. Flag burning.
The question was whether or not the two were related. This is what they are saying from Benghazi. What do you think?
BROOKES: We're still processing all of this. There's a possibility that it was related. It's interesting it happened on the same day. There may be some -- have been some coordination between the groups. I have no evidence of that. We may hear more about that later.
It's interesting, though, that, you know, two separate countries on the same issue on the same day, an incident like this took place. But that's kind of in a certain way, that's kind of a minor issue, compared to the personal human tragedy, and of course, what this means for the United States, and the security of the United States in that part of the world.
SAMBOLIN: You made a correlation earlier, as well, with the attacks of September 11th. You think that they're related?
BROOKES: There's certainly a possibility. It happened on September 11th. You know, that that's a day when, certainly, there's going to be a lot of media coverage of American relations with the Arab and the Muslim world and the Middle East. So, that would make a reason for them to make that sort of stand.
You know, what I'm really troubled about is that this attack on Benghazi, it appears to me, just from, you know, looking at it, like I said, we're all processing this still, is that they must have been laying in wait for the ambassador if this terrible story is true about the attack on his vehicle, because they probably knew where he would exit the embassy.
They obviously -- or the consulate, I'm sorry. They had significant weapons and an RPG with them and he's -- was attack. So, my concern, especially, I can't relate it to Egypt, but especially about Benghazi is that this was meant to force the ambassador to leave the Benghazi consulate, and then he was attacked. So, that shows a greater level of sophistication to me at a very, you know, first glance sort of look.
ROMANS: Let's talk a little bit -- this is Christine here, Peter. Let's talk a little bit about this visceral reaction to this video, and I want to sort of tell people a bit more about this video. The video considered offensive by Muslims. It was posted to YouTube. It was promoted by radical anti-Muslim blog.
A video then was reported on by Arabic news organizations, and a lot of folks think this is the trigger for this up swelling of violence, the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Benghazi in Libya.
At this point, I would assume that State Department officials and, you know, the people who are executing our foreign policy around the world are very concerned about this video still inciting more pockets of violence elsewhere.
What do you think is being done, from your experience in foreign policy, to secure American facilities abroad?
BROOKES: Well, they have to do that. I mean, obviously, that's going to be job number one. We have all these embassies and consulates around the world. I think we need to be able to protect them, the workers there, and also, American citizens that are in these countries. There are generally lists of Americans.
It's a voluntary registration. If there's a natural disaster or something horrible like this that happens in one part of the world, they want to give some sort of advice to Americans about how to protect themselves. So, there's obviously, they're reaching out to people in their communities. There's probably community leaders that are reaching out to other American citizens and giving them some advice about things.
And there are some very practical things that Americans can do to protect themselves overseas, you know, outside of, you know, moving to the embassy or leaving the country. So, I think everybody's very, very nervous right now.
The State Department and defense department and the intelligence agencies are all abuzz and working, you know, 24/7 to try to see if there's any additional attacks that are going to take place, especially ones that may be incited by what happened yesterday. And obviously very troubling for us and a very, very busy time.
SAMBOLIN: What happens next? The United States has worked so hard on the relationships with these two countries. What happens next?
BROOKES: It's hard to say. You know, you want to hope that these are isolated incidents. That we're not going to see any more of this. You want the government to stand up and say the right things about it. I wasn't completely comfortable at all with the Libyan statement. I think it should have been stronger, you know, about condemning this sort of violence.
You want to see the security forces cracking down on these groups. It appears that the group in Egypt may be a little bit more organized. I'm not clear at all about Benghazi, but the fact that the ambassador's car was attacked, you know, tells me they knew something more. There's more of a bigger plot there than was going on.
So, there's, like I said, there's a whole laundry list of things to do, and everybody's worried about what's going to happen next. So, everybody's on full alert.
ROMANS: All right. We're still again -- Peter Brookes, thank you so much. We're still again waiting for confirmation from the State Department, word from the State Department. We know that last night, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said that an American State Department official had died in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. We're still waiting for more from the State Department this morning.
SAMBOLIN: And we are continuing to follow these developments overseas as anti-American protests break out in the Middle East. Angry mobs, you've been looking at it all morning, hitting U.S. buildings in Libya, in Egypt, leaving, as we said, American diplomat dead. Right now, officials around the world are putting extra security on alert to guard against similar assaults.
ROMANS: And we've got this story, breaking story covered like no other network can. Coming up on "STARTING POINT" in the next hour, reporter, Ian Lee, live in Cairo. Jomana Karadsheh joins us live from Tripoli, also Newt Gingrich, the fiery former House speaker, former CIA officer, Peter Brookes, who you just heard, and Torie Clarke, former Pentagon spokeswoman all joining us live. We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ROMANS: Breaking news for you this morning. We've been telling you about the violence against American interests in both Cairo and in Benghazi in Libya. And we can tell you now that the American ambassador to Libya has been killed in that violence in Benghazi yesterday. His name is Chris Stevens.
SAMBOLIN: J. Christopher Stevens.
ROMANS: He has been there -- he was appointed in May of 2012, but he has been -- he's a Middle East hand. He knows Libya, loves Libya. He was a special representative to the transitional national council. So, he was advising the Libyans as they were going through Arab spring.
This is what the State Department says. This is what the U.S. embassy, rather, says about him. "Ambassador Chris Stevens considers himself fortunate to participate in this incredible period of change and hope for Libya. As the President's representative, his job is to develop a strong, mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Libya."
It goes on to say, "Ambassador Stevens was the American representative to the Transitional National Council in Benghazi during the revolution."
SAMBOLIN: Let's bring in Elise Labott. She is live in Washington for us. And Elise, you spent a lot of time, you knew this man very well. What can you tell us about him?
LABOTT: Chris Stevens was -- you know, his enthusiasm not just for the Middle East, but Libya in particular was really infectious. I was with him in 2007 in Libya when he was the charge d'affaires of the embassy as the U.S. was restoring its ties to Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
And he was so excited about this, you know, country that was really an enigma for so many years to get in there and try and form relationships with the Libyan people after so many years, the U.S. had not had ties with the Libyan people.
And so, then, when he went back to Benghazi as the envoy to the opposition, to the Transitional National Council, he really tapped into that wide network of contact, and the tribes, you know, Libya's a very tribal society, many different groups, many different tribes. So, he had contact throughout the whole country, not just in the civil society, but in the business community.
He loved to entertain, and he loved to invite Libyans over to his house. And so, when they looked after the Arab spring to appoint a new U.S. ambassador to Libya after the Moammar Gadhafi fell, really Chris Stevens was seen as the only person that could do it. His enthusiasm for Libya really unparalleled.
SAMBOLIN: All right. Elise Labott live for us in Washington. Thank you for all of those details. And again, U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, born in 1960, very young man, killed.
SAMBOLIN: Well, that's it for us on EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.
ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. Breaking news coverage continues on "STARTING POINT." John Berman and Brooke Baldwin in for Soledad this morning.