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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN
Attacks in Libya Kill U.S. Ambassador; The State Department Reacts; Cairo: The Other Powder Keg
Aired September 12, 2012 - 07:00 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.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and welcome to STARTING POINT, everyone. I'm John Berman.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Soledad is off this week.
We begin with the breaking news this morning. CNN has now confirmed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, the man you see here on the left side of your screen, Christopher Stevens, and three other embassy staff, they are dead, killed in a rocket attack targeting the ambassador's car in Libya.
BERMAN: The group, apparently, on its way to a safer venue after protesters attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and opened fire. The violence in protest to that amateur online film produced in the U.S. that offended millions and millions of Muslims.
First, we want to bring in Elise Labott. She has known Ambassador Stevens for ten years. She works at the State Department for us. Elise, this is a tragedy for the entire diplomatic community this morning.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, yes. John, this is a terrible day for the State Department. I mean, everyone is going to be in mourning today and it's not just the fact that Chris Stevens was such a popular figure of the State Department. Really, one of the cream of the crop of the U.S. foreign service.
But it's been many years since someone of this level has been killed in an attack like this. So, I think there's going to be a lot of shockwaves through the State Department. After all the U.S. has done for the Libyans. Using force to get rid of Moammar Gadhafi, to help Libya stand up as it moved towards elections, as it tries to start anew. I think there's going to be a lot of gut checking right now about how the U.S. wants to proceed. Not just with Libya but with a lot of countries in the Middle East. I mean if you look at the Islamic wave that has swept the Middle East in terms of these revolutions, the U.S. was very apprehensive, that we are going to support democratic movements.
But they also said, Secretary Clinton has also said that an election does not a democracy make. And so these countries are not going to necessarily hold up to their end of the bargain. There are diplomatic conventions about protecting U.S. facilities, about holding to democratic values. And you saw some statements coming out of the Libyan interior ministry right now blaming the United States, in fact, for something like this. I think there's going to be a lot of, you know, the U.S. is really going to hunker down and think about how they want to proceed now. Not just in Libya but in the whole region.
BALDWIN: Elise, this is Brooke. Let me just, as John points out, you know, diplomats really are certainly mourning this morning, and we're covering the story, really there's no way any other network can. If we can just back up and if you can help us fill in the blanks as far as what exactly happened, because here we are day two now of protests. We've been covering the protests in Cairo and in Benghazi. We remember covering the revolution. It was really the rebel stronghold last year. Explain what exactly happened as far as this ambassador is concerned and the three other workers who were apparently with him in his car?
LABOTT: Brooke, details are very sketchy right now. What we understand is we knew yesterday, towards the end of the day, that as we were watching those pictures at the embassy in Cairo, there were gunmen that had approached the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and breached the walls of the compound. And they were trying to secure the compound, Secretary Clinton put out a statement early this morning that one U.S. foreign service officer was killed.
What we can piece together, and again there hasn't been State Department confirmation of the details, is that they were trying to take Chris Stevens, the ambassador to Libya, who is based in Tripoli, I might add, and some other personnel out to safety, and there was a rocket attack and they were killed.
BERMAN: Elise, you were mentioning before that these protesters were at the embassy in response to this movie about the prophet Mohammed has outraged millions of Muslims. The Libyan Deputy Interior Minister, he told a group of reporters at a presser not long ago that they were there marching toward the U.S. consulate with their weapons to protest the U.S. stance and the fact that the U.S. did not stop that insulting movie. When the consulate security guards overheard the gunfire, it seemed they felt the consulate was about to be attacked or under attack, so they started the fire from inside the consulate. This led to more anger from the crowd. Is that what you were talking about when the Libyans were almost seeming to blame the Americans at this point?
LABOTT: Exactly. I think that when something like this happens, instead of showing the remorse for what happened and that the U.S. was there trying to protect them, saying that the U.S. was responding to these armed protesters in the wrong way, yes, it's the U.S. job to protect their facilities. But it's really the Libyans' job to protect their facilities. And if they thought these armed gunmen were harmless or something like that, then they should have been the front lines of security at the embassy to push them back.
So I'm not saying that the Libyans don't have a right or perhaps understandably are upset about this type of movie. But we're talking about right now Libya's trying to move towards democracy. And here in the United States, there was a lot of talk about this yesterday, the U.S. supports freedom of the press, freedom of expression. These are some of the things that the U.S. has talked about when it's talked about democracy, that everybody has a right to speak their mind, to express themselves, whether it's a movie, whether it's a protest, whether it's a cartoon, things like that. And they understand that you have to be sensitive in doing so, but to say that the U.S. did not respond to armed gunmen approaching the consulate in a wrong way or anger I think is going to raise a lot of eyebrows at the State Department, because this morning Secretary Clinton called -- or last night, if you will, in Libyan time, Secretary Clinton called the president of Libya and said, "You better secure these facilities. That is your responsibility as a host government."
BALDWIN: Elise Labott, do me a favor and stand by. We're going to keep coming back to you. But I do want to bring in Peter Brookes. He is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and a former CIA officer, currently a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Peter, good morning to you.
PETER BROOKES, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECURITY OF DEFENSE: Good morning.
BALDWIN: Let me just begin with, wow, you know, revolution, we thought revolution can happen. We've covered these revolutions in both Libya and Egypt last year. And now we have this. In terms of diplomacy, as we go forward, how does the U.S. proceed, and how does -- how do both Libya and Egypt proceed, as well?
BROOKES: Very, very difficult. While we're in this very important political season here in the United States, we can't forget about what's going on overseas. I mean there's also Syria, which we're not talking about this morning. But a lot of people thought that Libya, perhaps, was moving in the right direction.
Although there was concerns about armed militias, the referendum, the constitution, things along that line, and look at this terrible tragedy here, which seems to me, the more I think about it, Brooke, it was a plot. They not only attacked the embassy, but then they had somebody laying in wait with an RPG to attack the ambassador's car. It's more than just a crowd going after the embassy protesting of internet film.
So this is very, very troubling. Egypt, there were 100 American businessmen there on a trade mission this week. The American State Department has talked about dismissing a billion dollars in Egyptian debt. And I've not heard much. Now I'm here at CNN. But I haven't heard all of the news this morning. But I haven't seen a strong statement coming out of President Morrissey of Egypt about this issue. Where are the security forces in this country? I want to see mug shots of the people that were involved in this, especially the attack on the ambassador. So very, very important things that we have to be thinking about.
BALDWIN: Specifically you mentioned Mohamed Morsi, you know, backed by Muslim Brotherhood, making efforts to communicate, to keep very, very strong ties with the west, and specifically the U.S. so far, no statement from him. You know, hearing from Egyptian blogger last night on our air, he is MIA. What do we need to hear from Mohamed Morsi?
BROOKES: He's got to condemn the violence. And he's also got to say that he's going to track down these perpetrators and bring them to justice. That's what we need to see. But if I can channel Morsi for a moment, he's very concerned because the groups that were probably involved in this attack in Cairo are probably, you know, more radical than the Muslim brotherhood.
And he's very cautious about walking this fine line between the secularists, and the radicals, which is not easy at all for him because he is a new president. But he's got to do the right thing. I think in the past we've seen him go after radicals, in a violent extremist in the Sinai. He's got to do the right things here. Security forces need to bring these people to justice, not only in Cairo but obviously in Libya, as well.
BERMAN: On the phone joining us now -- thank you, Peter -- is the former Syrian ambassador. Mr. Stevens, Chris Stevens, worked for him when he was ambassador to Syria and talk to us this morning about the Chris Stevens the man, the man who was in Libya, the man who said he was thriving there, so enjoying being part of this change happening all over the Arab world.
THEODORE KATTOUF, FORMER SYRIAN AMBASSADOR: Chris Stevens was one of the most brave and infectiously enthusiastic people I've known in the foreign service. I just awakened this morning to the news and I can't tell you how shocked and saddened I am.
He was a great foreign service officer. He was incredibly positive. He took on all the tough assignments. And there is a saying, a rather cynical one, that no good deed goes unpunished. And Chris Stevens did great deeds for the Libyan people and for this country during the Libyan uprising. And it's just ironically tragic that of all the people, he was killed over some film that most Americans have never even heard about. Just --
BERMAN: Ambassador Kattouf, let me read you a statement that we found this morning that was on the U.S. embassy website, it's a haunting statement now, about Chris Stevens, and his time in Libya. "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. Ambassador Stevens was the American representative to the transitional national council in Benghazi, of course, during the revolution." That statement, it really is haunting at this point, ambassador.
KATTOUF: It is. I've met with Ambassador Stevens just before he went out to assume his new duties as am boss Dr. I had a nonprofit training, and he was so enthusiastic about wanting to have my organization out there on the ground, working with the Libyan people. You know a lot of ambassadors won't offer that kind of diplomacy. But Chris understood the importance of it. He served all over the region. And as Elise Labott indicated, people loved this guy. He was very special. And I suspect -- I would think to think that senior Libyan officials this morning are ashamed of what happened.
BERMAN: Ambassador Kattouf, thank you very much. We're sorry for your loss. The entire diplomatic community feeling the loss of Chris Stevens, very, very popular around the world.
BALDWIN: People loved ambassador Stevens. I want to go to
Jomana Karadsheh who is on the phone. Jomana, tell me what you know happened and what's happening here today on this early morning.
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we have not received any information from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli here. They are being very tight-lipped about what happened and not either confirming or denying these reports that it was, indeed, Ambassador Chris Stevens who was killed in this attack.
But according to Libyan officials the consulate was attacked by militants yesterday we had eyewitnesses who described the situation as a front line clashes that took place for hours with rocket-propelled grenades fired at the consulate there. Conflicting reports on how the fatality did occur. How ambassador Stevens may have been killed. There are reports that it was from the RPG attack, and there are other reports that he suffocated from the fire that was in the embassy.
I know we're expecting to hear more from Libyan officials. A press conference here is going to start momentarily held by Libya's two top officials, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament. All Libyan officials we have spoken to today, and Libyans on the street here in Tripoli, will shocked by this attack, condemning this attack, and they see Ambassador Stevens and the United States as friends of Libya, and they're truly ashamed by what happened.
BALDWIN: Jomana, just so I'm clear, as we were reporting yesterday, and as you've been reporting this morning, there were the protests at the U.S. consulate there in Benghazi, and that is where one worker was killed. And then we learned of the death of Ambassador Stevens. And as far as a time line, that is still unclear, correct, because according to our reporting, according to your sources, he was targeted with three other workers in a car, and we don't know as far as the time line of that death and the protests, correct?
KARADSHEH: That is the case. It is very difficult to get any clarity on what actually happened, the timeline, because of the U.S. State Department and the U.S. embassy here has revealed very little information.
BERMAN: Jomana it's John Berman here. I have a question, because this may be confusing for a lot of Americans waking up this morning to hear that the U.S. ambassador was killed in Libya after last October, Moammar Gadhafi was killed in Libya, after the U.S. seemed to support the uprising there. What has been the sentiment towards the U.S. over the last several months? Is there a rising anti-American sentiment there?
We appear to have lost Jomana in Libya right now. But we are fortunate that we're joined by Jamie Rubin, of course, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State. Jamie is with us here in New York this morning. That question I asked to Jomana I can ask to you. This would be confusing to a lot of Americans when we hear a U.S. diplomat was killed in Libya. Libya is supposed to be this place where change is happening for the good, presumably.
JAMES RUBIN, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes. And I think that there has not been a big rise in anti-American sentiment in Libya in recent months. There are still a lot of internal problems in Libya. Libya is hardly a stable society. But I think when your reporter said that there's a lot of shame inside -- in Tripoli amongst the people, amongst the government there, the fact they're pulling out their two highest-ranking political officials to talk about this today, I expect to see the kind of expressions of regret and shame and all of the signs and sentiments we would hope to come from Libya will be in this press conference coming in the coming hours out of Libya.
And it is tricky to understand the connection between this attack and the broader protests against the United States and Cairo, and in the region, and in Libya specifically. And I think it's very important until we know whether the death of the U.S. ambassador was a result of the protests, and he was killed escaping the consulate, it may have been a separate plot of some kind where his car was targeted by a group that was an anti-American, Al Qaeda affiliated, extremist Islamic group. Or it may be this whole thing spun out of control as a result of a firefight beginning at the consulate. So until you are able to answer that question, it's kind of hard to assign the significance of this.
BALDWIN: That's what I was trying to ask about the timeline. I think that will be fleshed out over time. As you mentioned, top Libyan officials speaking, I'm sure we'll bring that in to CNN. As far as who's not really speaking yet and having worked at the State Department, if you can, Jamie, just lift the veil. What are the machinations within the State Department? When will they confirm?
RUBIN: I expect fairly soon. There are probably a lot of notifications to be made. There's, you know, obviously the ambassador himself, his staff, each of the individuals, families, who are, if they know their son or daughter is in Libya right now, obviously frantic. So I expect what's going on is that there's a lot of tracking down of family members, of staffers, plus the ambassador, notifications, discussions, plans for what to do with the bodies, which are apparently not yet in U.S. custody. And then once that is done, the internal steps to make sure that family members are notified, not from the media, then I expect they'll be able to give us these factual questions. I would expect a full briefing from the State Department fairly soon.
BERMAN: The White House, of course, hasn't given us official confirmation yet. But they have told us that President Obama is being kept abreast of the situation in Libya by his national security adviser, Tom Donelin at this moment. The White House on top of this.
BALDWIN: I'm sure we'll be hearing from the State Department, of course, probably from the White House as well, fluid situation. Jamie Rubin, stay with us. We need to get a quick commercial break in, but we're going to stay on this breaking news coverage all morning long. The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staffers killed in a rocket attack overnight in Benghazi. We are going to talk to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich next. STARTING POINT is back in a moment.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. Big news this morning here, following the breaking news out of the Middle East. U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens has been killed along with three other embassy staff members.
BERMAN: They were targeted by a rocket as they were leaving the ambassador's car for a safer venue during that violence that erupted in Benghazi yesterday. Now I want to bring in former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Mr. Gingrich is in our Washington bureau right now. Mr. Speaker, this is a tragedy for the entire U.S., for the diplomatic community. What do you make of what's happening on the ground right now in Libya?
NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, first of all, I think all of our prayers should go out to all four families who gave their lives on behalf of the United States. These are truly soldiers of freedom as much as anybody in Afghanistan and Iraq. We should all recognize that.
I also think we should back up a half step and realize this is not just about Libya. You don't get simultaneously attacks in Benghazi and Cairo, and Libya and Egypt on a purely local basis. And you don't get them on 9/11, a day when we're already honoring terrorist attacks in the United States, without a fair amount of collusion and a fair amount of planning. So I think you have to look at this in a larger context.
It doesn't matter if the average Libyan likes us or dislikes us. There's a substantial faction, particularly in Benghazi, which was sending people to Iraq to kill Americans. There's a substantial faction in Egypt which wants to defeat the United States and destroy Israel. That faction looks for opportunities to do things to hurt the United States, and yesterday was an example of an attack that's part of a very long war that we're going to be at, I think, for a very, very long time. And we need to have an honest national conversation about how serious this war is.
BERMAN: Mr. Speaker, you connected the dots between the demonstrations in Cairo and the demonstrations in Libya and the assassination of the U.S. ambassador there. Do you have any proof that there is a connection right now? Let's just ask you that.
GINGRICH: OK. So you have -- you're suggesting we have spontaneously --
BERMAN: No, I just want to know if there's something --
GINGRICH: Look, I don't have access to the NSA listening devices. I don't know what our various people think. But I have looked at this long enough going back to 1979 and looking, frankly, before that at the Palestinian terror operations in the '70s, that they have been able to -- anybody who's ever studied terrorism will tell you there's almost certainly a link.
This is almost like the Danish cartoon outrage a few years ago which happened to simultaneously appear in country after country. It wasn't simultaneous. We are faced with enemies who want to defeat the United States and impose their radical views. We're a country that believes in religious liberty. We believe in freedom of speech. How can the U.S. government apologize for a film no one has seen, which is what the embassy in Cairo did yesterday? This is part of a much longer struggle, and I think you have to connect these larger dots. It's not just about an event in Libya. It's about a longer war, part of which we were being reminded of yesterday on 9/11.
BALDWIN: Mr. Speaker, this is Brooke Baldwin. If I may interject here, we have now gotten confirmation from the White House on the death of ambassador Stevens. I just want to read the first graph of a multi-graph e-mail statement from the White House. "We strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi which took the lives of four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens." It goes on. "Right now the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice and partnership with nations and people around the globe and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives."
Here's my question to you this morning as politics has already been injected in this as of yesterday, because of some of the messaging that went out. I want to begin with Mitt Romney's statement on what happened. Let me just quote him, quote his campaign, quote, "I am outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt, and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It is disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
Now, to be clear, the embassy statement from Cairo actually came out before the protests. They came out after they knew about the film, before the protest, just to be clear about that. Sir, let me just finish. The Obama campaign response was this. "We are shocked at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack." Speaker Gingrich, is this really time for politics here?
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, if you do timelines. Governor Romney issued that statement before we knew the American ambassador was killed.
BALDWIN: That's correct, absolutely. Absolutely.
GINGRICH: So you can be shocked that the Obama campaign was twisting the facts.
BALDWIN: How was the Obama campaign twisting the facts? GINGRICH: They were suggesting he was issuing a statement at a time when the ambassador had been killed when it was clear Governor Romney didn't know he had been killed when they issued the statement.
BALDWIN: We knew of a death.
GINGRICH: We had an opportunity yesterday to teach the Muslim world about freedom. To say you know, it's true, some people in the United States might make a film that's totally whacked out. I'm a Christian. I've spent all my lifetime being lectured, but that there's artistic freedom.
People can do things to the image of Christ and we are not supposed to be offended because after all we have artistic freedom. Sooner or later we in the modern world have to say to those who are living in a different way, look, we stand for freedom. And that means that we shouldn't give in. I read exactly what the statement said yesterday from the American embassy and it was precisely the wrong message to give to the Muslim world. It was we are standing for freedom.
BALDWIN: I have that, Speaker Gingrich. Let me read it if our viewers aren't familiar. U.S. embassy in Cairo statement, quote, "The embassy of the U.S. and Cairo could be condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious belief of others," and the administration confirmed with Politico that that statement had not gone through Washington, therefore the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ultimately issued a statement. But back to Governor Romney -- should he be walking back any of his statements today?
BALDWIN: Why not?
GINGRICH: Governor Romney's statement is pretty clear. If Governor Romney were president he would be enraged at the Egyptians for tolerating the attack on the embassy. He would be offended at the Libyans for allowing -- both countries have an obligation to protect our embassies. This is exactly like 1979 in Iran when we ended up in a hostage crisis. Egypt has an obligation to protect our embassy. Libya has an obligation to protect our embassy.
And frankly, maybe it's because I'm a conservative, maybe it's because I come out of a different background, but when the American flag is torn down and destroyed, when an American ambassador and three other Americans are killed, my reaction is not to find some way to be pleasant and understanding and caring about the people who are killing Americans, tearing down our flag, and assaulting our country. My reaction, frankly, is to be pretty militant and say we ought to stand up for America.
BERMAN: John Berman here again. That statement happened before any of the violence. It happened before the demonstrations, it happened before the killings, it happened before the American flag was torn down. Let's just be clear about that right now.
GINGRICH: Let me ask you this, by what right does an American official in a foreign country get involved in freedom of speech issues in the United States against freedom of speech? I mean, read the opening part of the statement, which suggests that in effect we should somehow be apologizing -- this is a film nobody has seen, done by somebody nobody understands. That's what America was all about is people are supposed to be free. We should be defending and explaining freedom, not kowtowing to whatever willful religious fanatic group decides they're offended by something. I don't think there's any circumstance where an American official should be censoring and condemning American free speech on behalf of people who happen to be irritated by it.
BERMAN: Mr. Speaker, hang on one second, Elise Labott at the State Department can give us some context of that initial statement from Cairo.
LABOTT: John, it's true what Politico said, and we had known this yesterday. That statement was not cleared from Washington. And there was a lot of talk yesterday talk that the embassy sent out that statement and flies in the face of what U.S. values are. We have been talking about the fact that while the U.S. makes clear that it does not take sides with any race or religion and it really tries to promote religious intolerance, which is -- religious tolerance, excuse me, which has been a very big priority of Secretary Clinton.
And the State Department, they did not believe that that statement espoused U.S. values because it did fly in the face of what the Americans think about free speech. Secretary Clinton has said that an election does not a democracy make and part of a democracy is freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly.
And they felt that this statement didn't necessarily reflect those values. Now I think to make any connection to what happened at the embassy in Cairo, at the embassy in Libya, might be a little stretching because these things happen like really in succession of one another.
That statement came out. The U.S. was expecting protests at the embassy. In addition to that statement the embassy also sets out a kind of warning to Americans that there could be protests over this film.
So certainly that statement kind of apologizing, as some would say, if you would, rumpled feathers. But to say it caused that stampede on either of the embassies I think might be stretching just a bit.
BERMAN: All right, Elise Labott, our Elise Labott in Washington, Mr. Speaker, Speaker Newt Gingrich in Washington also thank you both very much for bringing us up to date right now. Brooke, let's remind people what's going on.
BALDWIN: Let's just go ahead and reset at the bottom of the hour. The breaking news here coming out of the Middle East, it is both out of Libya and out of Egypt specifically. We now know the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other embassy staff members are dead. They were killed in this rocket attack, apparently targeting the ambassador's car.
BERMAN: The group was heading to a safer location after protesters attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and opened fire. That violence was in protest to that amateur online film produced in the U.S. that offended millions of Muslims.
We want to bring in right now CNN contributor Fran Townsend on the phone in Washington, D.C. Fran worked in the White House in the Bush administration on Homeland Security.
And Fran, you were talking yesterday a lot about the connection between what was going on in Cairo and Libya. You were saying these protests represented really a tremendous amount of activity, too much to be a coincidence on September 11th.
Now on top of that, we have the assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (via telephone): John, let me just step back for a second. I should tell you that I was with Ambassador Chris Stevens not two weeks ago. I was in Tripoli on a business trip.
He was not only a friend, but I think to give our viewers some context, Chris Stevens had a particular sort of affinity for Benghazi. He has been in D.C. in 2007 when I was in the White House and visited. He was there with me when I traveled to speak with Gadhafi and then he left Libya.
He went back at the height of the fighting. He was with the rebels in Benghazi before there was sort of an official consulate and establishment there and that obviously prior to being appointed as ambassador. He knew Benghazi. He knew the rebels in Benghazi.
He felt very comfortable there. This is not your typical sort of starched white shirt ambassador. This was a guy who was a real professional, who rolled his sleeves up, who wanted to help the Libyans get the freedom that they have fought for.
And so, it's an extraordinary loss not only for the State Department, and obviously Chris' family, but for the country. My only experience there has been Libya was in a very fragile security situation.
And really needs the attention and support of the international community and so, look, unfortunately, it will now get the attention it needed before this tragedy. It will get it now, because of this.
BERMAN: Right, Fran, by all accounts Chris Stevens was a very special man with a very special affinity to Libya. He was a key part in the American roll there over the last year and a half as the rapid changes were happening there in the Arab spring. What does his death then today signify to you?
TOWNSEND: Well, look, I think we have supported the freedom movement especially in Libya. We supported the strikes. We were a part of the effort by NATO, but it's not enough, right? It's not enough to help people actually get their freedom.
Overthrow an oppressive government. You're going to have to come in behind them and help them as a fledgling democracy. The first indication of a working democracy is that it can protect its own people. And Libya is struggling.
I was there. The army are trying to take in the militia elements. The ministry of interior and border guards trying to get the equipment they need. And the attention of the international community, quite frankly, has turned elsewhere.
There are hot spots in Syria. There are hot spots around the world, where we're engaged our intention with the Iran nuclear program and everyone has said Libya fell off people's attention.
And I must tell you, if we don't want to see these sorts of tragedies we need to have a longer attention span and commit ourselves to helping fledgling democracies get up and running, and be able to protect their own people, and our establishments in their country.
BALDWIN: Fran, I think you bring up a great point, because we, you know, covered the revolution in Libya so thoroughly for so many months. And my lasting image is of the gold revolver, right, and learning that Moammar Gadhafi had been killed. But since then what has happened in Libya? Where have we been for the last couple of months? Where have they been?
TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. And so you could tell in talking to people both in the Libyan government, and at the U.S. Embassy, that there have been real concerns. There's a city called Durna, east of Benghazi where there's a growing extremist element there.
And people talk to me about that while I was there. That this group of Durna, this Al Qaeda, Islamist extremist group who is gaining strength in numbers and they were moving west. The next big city is Benghazi.
Chris Stevens offered to take me with him to Benghazi and I couldn't because I wasn't going to be on the ground long enough. I give him tremendous credit. He was willing to go there to talk to folks and to try to help them.
But one individual alone, and even with the embassy staff -- I don't want to misstate it. It's a terrific staff. It's very strong staff who were very inspired by Chris Stevens' commitment to Libya, but it needs more.
It needs a whole government approach. It's what we talked about in Iraq. You can't simply go in and break stuff and overthrow a government, pack up your stuff and go home and leave the diplomats there.
You actually need to do more in terms of commitment of the international community to help build institutions. Moammar Gadhafi didn't permit institutions, civil institutions. He ruled. He was an autocratic dictator and we knew that.
So when he was overthrown, the new government was going to need support, long-term support. They have their own money from oil. They need help building civil institutions.
BALDWIN: Sounds like Ambassador Stevens wanted to play an integral role in helping that support, the next chapter, if you will, of Libya, and his life tragically cut short.
Fran Townsend, thank you so much for calling in. If you get any more information obviously call us back. I'm just sitting here and listening to her speak I can't help, but think of all the images, our coverage of Benghazi, really the birthplace of the revolution, the rebel movement.
And here it is the same city in which the ambassador, who wanted to help Libyans --
BERMAN: Who played such a key role in that --
BALDWIN: -- was killed.
BERMAN: We'll be back in just a moment.
BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. We are following breaking news this morning: the U.S. ambassador to Libya killed in an attack in Benghazi.
The President just released a statement a few minutes ago. Quote, "I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
I've directed my administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe.
While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants."
BALDWIN: And just to be clear, as you're waking up here, two separate incidents, still murky the time line. Basically you have these protests in Cairo, Egypt, and also in Benghazi, Libya, presumably over this film that is purported to be blasphemous of the Prophet Mohammed.
So they breached the walls of the embassy in Cairo, protests there, breached the walls of the consulate in Benghazi. As a result of that one State Department worker was killed. After all of that, then we have learned that this ambassador to Libya, Ambassador Stevens, was apparently targeted along with three workers as he was exiting that consulate in Benghazi.
And that is when we learned he had been killed in addition to three other workers. So just to be clear, two separate incidents. Potentially, you know, all related. We just don't know.
BERMAN: That's what we're finding out today. I want to bring in Congressman Randy Forbes from Virginia, a Republican. Congressman Forbes, the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens is a tragedy for his family.
It is a tragedy in the diplomatic community, but it is a major moment in U.S. foreign policy right now. What do you think this signifies this morning?
REP. RANDY FORBES (R), VIRGINIA: Well, John, there's no question that this is a tragic situation. Our hearts go out to the families involved here.
You know on 9/11 when that tragedy hit the United States, I was the newest elected member of Congress and I remember we got through that for two reasons. The first thing is that we tried to calm the nation down, which I think is always important for us to do.
So we're making decisions that are reasonable and rational and not emotional. But the second thing is, then, to analyze our policies and see which ones do we need to continue? And which ones do we need to change?
I think we need to do the same thing in this situation. We need to take the time to pause, get all the facts, and examine our policies and look at them and see if there's anything different we need to be doing.
BERMAN: What do we need to change then? Finish that statement for me then, sir?
FORBES: Well, John, I can't answer that until we've looked at all the facts. I think sometimes we'd like to have knee-jerk reactions. But one of the things it seems like is that our foreign policy efforts in the Middle East are having some bumpy roads right now, if not collapsing altogether.
And I think at some particular point, after we have taken some time to analyze this situation, we need to examine that, look at that, and see which road we want to travel and move forward.
BERMAN: On the subject, sir, of knee-jerk reaction, I suppose actually it's not my place to call it a knee-jerk reaction. The Romney campaign yesterday released a statement before the assassination of Ambassador Stevens, but it was talking about the violence that had been going on in Libya and in Cairo.
The Romney campaign released a statement said, "I am outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi." That is a separate death. That is a separate death, by the way, Chris Stevens. Romney goes on to say it's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks. What's interesting about this statement, Congressman Forbes, is this statement came out before there was any violence. Mitt Romney is calling out the Obama team for not condemning the violence before the violence ever happened. You're a supporter of Mitt Romney. Do you support that statement?
FORBES: Well, John, I think one of the things that you're not suggesting is that Mitt Romney could somehow see into the future and predict this.
I think what Mitt Romney was doing is recognizing that, you know, this is an administration whose foreign policy certainly is collapsing in many parts around the world whether it's in Europe, where we pulled out our missile defense systems, only to get the Russians to spend more money on military instead of less.
When you look at what's happening in Egypt and Libya at this particular point in time. I think what amazes me, though, is the situation at some particular point in time, there's got to be some accountability on this administration.
And to simply attack the Romney campaign for a single statement but not examine the foreign policy flaws of this administration had doesn't seem correct for me to do.
I just think though at some particular point in time, after today, after tomorrow, after we've assessed these facts, we need to examine our foreign policy and ask if we're making the right decisions in the Middle East. And I think in many situations we're not.
BERMAN: All right, Congressman Randy Forbes, thank you so much for joining us this morning, a very sad morning for the entire community here.
BALDWIN: I want to bring Jamie Rubin back in, former Assistant Secretary of State, Jamie Rubin, this is something that we talked so much about last year in covering the revolutions.
The question, interestingly when you talk about these dictators of both Libya, be it Moammar Gadhafi or in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. They did keep in check these radical Islamic groups, and now that they are gone, here they are.
JAMES RUBIN, COUNSELOR, GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: Well, that's exactly right and that is what they used to tell us. That was the argument that was given, and is still given to some degree, by some of the monarchies in the Persian Gulf, the Saudis, the Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates.
They say, look, if you didn't have us, you would have either chaos, you would have Islamic extremism. The Muslim Brotherhood was the big enemy of Hosni Mubarak and Egypt, who he saw, their rise as yielding chaos and violence.
Now, of course, what we're seeing is some of the things they worried about are true, but some are not true. The Muslim Brotherhood president has come in Egypt, Mursi, and he has been relatively calm, relatively measured. He condemned the Iranian president recently.
BALDWIN: But he hasn't said anything in the last 24 hours.
RUBIN: But we're waiting to see what he's going to do about Egypt now and I think that will be a big test of how he sees his country's responsibilities to protect foreign embassies.
But the place where the Mubarak and Gadhafi and other dictators' arguments were correct is that they had a terribly effective secret police. They could often find Muslim extremist groups who were prepared to kill westerners before they acted.
They put them in prison. They often tortured them. And there was a degree of control of these areas that allowed for some, quote, "security" that had its benefits.
And we're losing some of that. Libya, in particular, is tragic because, I think as we've all said all morning, that after they won their freedom, not enough has been done to help them develop the institutions, and the means.
They have the money. They have their oil money, but they need the institutions and the support to develop real security.
BALDWIN: And in --
RUBIN: They don't have it.
BALDWIN: Not to interject another country here but Syria, if there is a post-Bashar Al-Assad Syria, then who's in charge?
RUBIN: Well, exactly. And Syria is, I would say, even more difficult because the ethnic tensions between Sunni and others are very, very strong in Syria.
And I think what we're seeing is that the failure to stop this war early, and with each month that passes, that risk of real, civil war in Syria where you have neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, going on for many, many years, may happen.
Right now, there is a civil war. But you could reach the next level, and that's what we call Beirut where in Lebanon you had a real civil war for a decade. And I think we're all hoping that doesn't happen in Syria.
BALDWIN: We have so much more for you. Jamie Rubin if you will, just stay seated here in the studio. We have to get a quick break in. We're continuing our breaking news coverage here on STARTING POINT. Back in just a moment.
BERMAN: We do have breaking news this morning. The U.S. ambassador to Libya killed in a rocket attack in Benghazi, but the violence in the Middle East right now not isolated in Libya. The other powder keg: Cairo. BALDWIN: Several men managed to scale the walls of the U.S. embassy there, rip down the American flag and live for us this mornng in Cairo, we have Ian Lee.
Ian, I understand the protests there continue. Tell me what you've been seeing. Tell me what you know.
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, the numbers are smaller this morning. In Cairo, there are dozens of protesters out there, a far cry from the thousands we saw last night. And, you know, as you've said, a handful were able to scale the embassy wall and tear down the American flag.
Security forces really nowhere to be seen when that occurred. The government has come out with a few statements and one thing, last night, we got a message from the Foreign Ministry and really uncharacteristic of the Egyptian government coming to us with a message.
Foreign Ministry came quickly saying that they condemn the attacks on the embassy and that they're going to work with the ministry to ensure that they're secured. So what ministries are responsible?
We have the Ministry of Interior and we talked to one of the spokesman from the Ministry of the Interior and said they have made a few arrests and they acted according to protocol. They were late.
They weren't there when the embassy was being breached. We talked to the military who is also on hand and said they have four APCs, armored personnel carriers and troops around the embassy to prevent a Libyan style attack, something where gunmen attack the embassy.
They're there to prevent gunmen forcing to enter the embassy but not riots. That's the job of the police. We asked the military why didn't the police respond quickly enough and they said that the police were unprepared.
Now the Egyptian cabinet has met about the incident and say it's on the top of their agenda. We're expecting a statement from them as well.
BALDWIN: OK, we mentioned multiple statements from the foreign ministry, but so many people waiting for something from Mohammed Morsi as we were talking a huge, huge day, huge test for him as the new leader of Egypt. Ian Lee for us in Cairo.
BERMAN: We have just got a statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's office. We now know the name of another of the four people killed along with Ambassador Chris Stevens. We now know that Shawn Smith was killed as well. He joined the department 10 years ago.
BALWIN: We have more information. This is a State Department statement. We'll get it for you after this quick break. We're covering the story the only way CNN can live from all across the world. STARTING POINT back in just a moment.