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THE SITUATION ROOM

California Manhunt; John Brennan Faces Congress; Iran Claims It Has Decoded U.S. Drone's Video; Interview with Rep. Peter King; Bishops Slam Contraception Proposal; Outrage Growing Over Targeted Killings; War Hero on the Front Lines; Benghazi: Why No Help Arrived; Secret Hearings in Chandra Levy Case

Aired February 7, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: that manhunt in Southern California. The suspect is a fired policeman who threatened his former colleagues with -- quote -- "warfare."

Here in Washington, a series of protests disrupt the confirmation hearing for the man the president wants to be the next director of the CIA.

And we're finally learning why the United States military didn't come to the rescue in Benghazi, Libya.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with a desperate manhunt in Southern California under way right now. Police have linked a fired officer to a series of what they call atrocious crimes. Christopher Jordan Dorner is suspected of killing three people and wounding two others. He's still at large and police say he has access to multiple weapons and assault rifles.

CNN's Kyung Lah is joining us now from Los Angeles, where the police chief is calling the situation extremely worrisome and scary.

What's the latest, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly a frightening day for anyone connected to the police department in Southern California.

This is where today's shooting spree began. But all of this, Wolf, began earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAH (voice-over): The murder spree began on Sunday with the double killing of a newly engaged couple, Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence, Quan, the daughter of a retired LAPD captain, the officer who represented Christopher Dorner in front of the police board that eventually fired him.

Dorner refers to Quan's murder in his manifesto, where he also writes: "I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own. I'm terminating yours. Self-preservation is no longer important to me. I do not fear death, as I died long ago on January 2 of '09," a date just a few months after Dorner was fired as a police officer.

The LAPD fanned out, launching 40 protection details throughout Southern California.

CHARLIE BECK, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, POLICE CHIEF: LAPD is the specific target, but all law enforcement is targeted. This is a vendetta against all of Southern California law enforcement.

LAH: Three days later, Wednesday, in San Diego, the LAPD says Dorner attempted to hijack a boat, an attempt that failed. Then, early this morning, an eyewitness saw Dorner's vehicle an hour southeast of Los Angeles. Police are assigned on protective detail for people mentioned in the manifesto engaged Dorner.

SGT. RUDY LOPEZ, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT: They identify the vehicle. They start to follow that vehicle. And within two exits, that suspect gets off the freeway at Magnolia and our officers are in proximity. As soon as they turn the right turn, the suspect is already out of the vehicle engaging them with gunfire.

LAH: One officer grazed in the head, unable to capture him. A short time later, another shooting in nearby Riverside, two unsuspecting Riverside police officers fired upon in what police call a cowardly ambush, one seriously hurt, the other killed.

BECK: The city mourns the deaths of Monica Quan, Keith Lawrence, and our brave Riverside police officer. I also feel a great sadness for the injuries suffered by my officer, the second Riverside officer, and the two uninvolved citizens in Torrance.

LAH: Torrance was the location of yet another shooting this morning, but not by Dorner.

The people inside this blue truck, similar in description to Dorner's vehicle, were delivering morning newspapers. Officers opened fire, injuring the two inside, a sad case of mistaken identity.

A city reacting to the fear of a trained, enraged killer on the loose. As he writes in his manifesto, "I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty. ISR" -- referring to his law enforcement training -- "is my strength and your weakness. You will now live the life of the prey."

BECK: I would tell him to turn himself in. This has gone far enough. Nobody else needs to die.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: Now, in San Diego today, there was a brief report that he may be near Naval Base Point Loma. That naval base briefly went on lockdown. So, Wolf, this manhunt very much still ongoing.

BLITZER: What's it like in L.A. right now, where I assume a lot of people are on edge?

LAH: Certainly. And this is a city that is used to gun violence. There are a lot of guns on the street. There are a lot of people who are used to hearing about violence, but this sort of violence, this targeted violence, this rage that you can certainly feel, you can hear the concern on the radio. You can hear a lot of people talking about it. You can see it on social media. Certainly, this is an entire region that is on edge.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah will stand by.

Let's go to CNN's Paul Vercammen. He's in Riverside, California, where one of the shootings took place.

Paul, give us the mood over there, the latest. What do they suspect is going on?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Extremely high tension here in Riverside, Wolf.

They have not seen Dorner since 1:30 a.m. this morning, police fearing that perhaps he might want to return and open fire on officers, and that's why you see behind me the officers, most of them, have not taken their hands off their guns until -- for a long time. And look down the street here, also, Wolf. This is where police say the cold- hearted ambush took place early this morning when he killed one officer and wounded another.

Let's hear from the police of -- chief. Well, we won't hear from the police of chief. He said basically that this was a cowardly act by Dorner. And one of the things that has everyone so concerned here, as we look again at the officers, Dorner is a trained marksman and he talked in his manifesto about have a .50-cal semiautomatic sniper rifle.

They fear that he could inflict a lot of damage from far range. Also, in that manifesto, he bragged about understanding what to do with ordnance, meaning explosives. So a very armed and dangerous suspect here connected with three separate shooting incidents, three people killed, one of them a police officer and two police officers murdered -- injured, I should say, Wolf -- now back to you.

BLITZER: He was a U.S. Navy Reserve lieutenant. And we are told in the Navy he was rated as a rifle marksman and pistol expert, according to his Navy records. He was fired by the police department in Los Angeles four years ago. Do we know what triggered four years later this rampage?

VERCAMMEN: Well, from reading his manifesto and from reading police reports, he brought up charges against an officer, saying that this officer kicked a homeless man. It was determined later, according to police reports, that these charges were false by Dorner.

After a while, he was subsequently fired, and he refers to that time and time again in his manifesto as the reasons for why he would wage a vendetta, not only against police officers, but also their families -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know what he's been doing over the past four years since he was fired from the LAPD?

VERCAMMEN: Unclear on this side in Riverside.

BLITZER: All right, Paul Vercammen, he will continue to watch the situation over there.

We're going to stay on top of this story here in THE SITUATION ROOM. During our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour, we're going to speak with Charles Moose. He was the police chief of Montgomery County, Maryland. A lot of you will remember the serial killings linked to the D.C. snipers at that point. Much more on this story coming up.

Let's move though to today's dramatic confrontation here in Washington up on Capitol Hill. For a short time today, protesters actually shut down today's hearing for President Obama's nominee to run the CIA. And Iran is posting video, it claims, was decoded from a captured U.S. drone.

The man President Obama wants to run the CIA is getting grilled right now at his confirmation hearing. John Brennan is getting hardball questions about leaked classified information targeting terrorists and whether he supported the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, including water-boarding.

We're going to have a full report on that and all the day's other news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The man President Obama wants to run the CIA, John Brennan, is being grilled right now. His confirmation hearings are under way before the Senate Intelligence Committee. So far, it's been nasty because of interruptions by protesters.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is keeping track of the hearing.

Update our viewers, Jessica, on what has happened so far.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

So far, he's been getting a series of tough questions, that -- counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, the CIA nominee. But his hearing began with more than show than tell when a series of protesters interrupted first the Democratic chair of the committee and then the CIA nominee himself, objecting to the U.S.' use of targeted lethal force and the drones program. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John Brennan, your drone politics are endangering my generation. You're looking people halfway across world.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: If I might ask -- all right. I am going to ask that this room be cleared right now. Would the Capitol Police please come in and clear the room?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: There were five disruptions in all, Wolf, and in the end they did clear the room of the CODEPINK protesters. Senator Dianne Feinstein then let the hearing resume after about a 10-minute break with a lot of empty chairs in there.

She is allowed to ask them to leave when there are disruptions. That is sort of determined at the discretion of the chair, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's been a bunch of questions on what's called enhanced interrogation, some call it torture, on other very, very sensitive issues. What did he have to say?

YELLIN: Well, the nominee, John Brennan, has in the past has said that he opposed enhanced interrogation, but he was asked about a statement he made in 2007 to CBS News in which he said in part -- quote -- "There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency," meaning the CIA, "has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists and it has saved lives."

Well, he was asked to defend that statement. Why does he think back in 2007 enhanced interrogation saved lives, but now he doesn't? This administration opposes enhanced interrogation, Wolf. John Brennan said, it was the work of this very committee that he's testifying in front of that changed his mind. They issued a 6,000-page report. He read parts of it and now he has this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: I clearly had the impression, as you said, when I was quoted in 2007, that there was valuable intelligence that came out from those interrogation sessions. That's why I did say that to save lives.

I must tell you, Senator, that reading this report from the committee raises serious questions about the information that I was given at the time and the impression I had at that time. Now I have to determine what -- based on that information, as well as what CIA says, what the truth is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Wolf, he continues to take questions about this and other topics, including the drones program and alleged leaks by the administration of national security information -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to check back with you. Thanks, Jessica, very much.

Another big worry here in Washington today is Iran. Take a look at this. It's video that Iranians say they decoded from a captured U.S. drone. If that claim is true, it raises lots of questions about their capabilities and potentially U.S. vulnerabilities. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She's investigating what's going on.

What are you finding out, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So far, Wolf, U.S. officials aren't saying very much about all of this. So the question is, is it Iran that is showing the world the capabilities of one of the U.S.'s most secret spy airplanes?

(BEGIN VDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Iran claims this is classified video from a U.S. spy drone it downed in 2011. A man identified in Iranian media as a brigadier general narrates part of the footage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This aircraft has had many flights in countries around Iran. In operations that have taken place in Pakistan, this aircraft has provided guidance.

STARR: U.S. officials are trying to figure out what exactly Iran has in hand. In Washington Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wasn't talking.

REPORTER: Did Iran hack our drone, Mr. Secretary?

STARR: Most alarming will be if Iran's claim is true that it decoded the encrypted a video from one of America's most secret aircraft.

BILL SWEETMAN, SENIOR EDITOR, AVIATION WEEK: Looking at the video, it certainly seems to be genuine but I think it's a give away that you can see that the video in places is masked by what looked like frames in a glass cover.

STARR: Since it captured in the drone in 2011, Iran has embraced the propaganda value, even making a pink toy replica.

SWEETMAN: These things are being done for internal consumption. They are being done to show the Iranian people that the Iranian military is on the case, competent, technically advanced and taking care of their needs.

STARR: An embarrassment for the U.S., Iran says it brought down the drone. U.S. officials only confirmed a drone lost control while on a mission over Iran. At the time, President Obama asked Iran to return it.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And the Iranians, of course, never gave it back. The expert we talked to says the simplest explanation may be the one that is right, that the Iranians have the unencrypted, not coded video, and when they got it, they decided to show it to the world. The only question, Wolf, maybe, why did they wait so long to do it? Nobody really knows the answer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens on this front. Barbara, thank you.

Drones for intelligence and drones to kill. But when the target is an American citizen, does the president have the authority to take him out?

A leading voice in the House Intelligence Committee is standing by to join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: U.S. citizens dying overseas with other Americans pulling the trigger and using drones to take them out. That's just one reason President Obama's pick to be the next CIA director has been on the hot seat at his confirmation hearings today.

Let's break this down policy with Representative Peter King of New York. He serves in the House Permanent Select on Intelligence. He's chairman of the House Homeland Security, a subcommittee of that committee. Is that -- did I get that right, Congressman?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Yes, the subcommittee on counterterrorism.

BLITZER: On counterterrorism.

You used to be the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. You were term-limited.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: So, now, you were on the intelligence.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: What do you think about this policy that we now see in these memorandums that have been revealed that the president can simply order an American citizen to be killed by a drone without any judicial review?

KING: Wolf, from everything I've seen over the last several years, including everything that's come out in the last several days, I think the president is acting according to the law, according to the Constitution. The president's main job, his main obligation is to protect the security of the American people.

And the fact that the enemy may happen to be an American citizen should not give that enemy any immunity. And to me there are sufficient procedures in place, there are protocols in place. And to say that someone who's on the battlefield, who is a high-ranking member of an enemy force, is somehow entitled to due process -- listen, if we can capture that person, if we could somehow bring him to justice, otherwise, fine.

But you take someone like Awlaki, there's no other way we could get him, and he really was one of the most dangerous people in the world, more dangerous than bin Laden.

BLITZER: Was he simply a propagandist, though, who inspired killings, inspired al Qaeda operatives to try to go out and kill Americans and others, or was he involved in actual operational planning?

KING: I can tell you -- I guess as far as I can go, is that Awlaki was much more of a propagandist. He was much more than a recruiter. He was extremely high up in AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. I really can't go beyond that, other than to say that from the classified briefings I received over the years, I have absolutely no doubt that Awlaki was a high-ranking terrorist, a man who was responsible for murder, and orchestrated and planner of many of the operations.

So, to me, there's no doubt that he would fit into any definition at all of who should be taken out if the occasion arose.

BLITZER: Can you say the same thing about Adam Gadahn, that California man who has now become an al Qaeda operative, if you will, or a propagandist out there on the Internet?

KING: Again, I would have to see all of the information on him. He would be at a different level than Awlaki. My personal feelings are, I would have no problem with him being killed, to be honest with you. To me, it's like Tokyo Rose, if you will.

But having said that, I would have to see all of the documentation. These are decisions that are made very carefully at high levels of our government. And again, they set the restrictions. They've set the guidelines. I have no doubt Awlaki was within those guidelines. I would have to see more on Gadahn.

I can tell you, morally, it wouldn't bother me at all. But whether or not he fits in to those guidelines, I really can't say right now.

BLITZER: Here's what is in that leaked Justice Department memo that's come out. "The condition that an operational leader presents an imminent threat of violent threats against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future."

Here's the question: what's the difference between an imminent attack and immediate future? It sounds like there's a contradiction in that line.

KING: I don't see it. I think in the world in which we live, someone like bin Laden, someone like Awlaki, these are long-term plans they have. For instance, the 9/11 plan was a long time putting together and being carried out. If we could have stopped it three months before, six months before by killing bin Laden or killing one of the operatives in that plan, to me, that's imminent enough.

And we know that Awlaki, for instance, in December 2009, he was one of the architects of the attempted Christmas Day bombing. We know there were others he was involved in. So, we have to assume if he's on the run and if he's operating in Yemen, and he's put together previous attacks, that he would be planning another one out.

So, to me, the presumption has to be that he's engaged in an imminent attack and he's attempting to plan it.

BLITZER: Peter King is supporting the president on this sensitive issue.

Congressman, thanks very much.

KING: Yes, I am. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to be back with more on this, our developing story. Today's manhunt for a fired LAPD officer who is suspected on a murderous rampage across southern California.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to this hour's top story, developing story out of southern California. A manhunt is under way right now for a fired Los Angeles police suspected in a series of attacks that have left three people dead and two people wounded. It started on Sunday.

Police say Christopher Jordan Dorner shot and killed two people in Irvine, California. Then, last night, Dorner allegedly tried and failed to steal a boat in San Diego.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- people dead and two people wounded. It started on Sunday. Police say Christopher Jordan Dorner shot and killed two people in Irvine, California. Then, last night Dorner allegedly tried and failed to steal a boat in San Diego.

At 1:25 a.m. this morning, California time, he got into a shootout with police in Chino but got away. As short time, later Dorner surfaced in Riverside. Police say he ambushed two officers, killing one and seriously wounding the other.

Dorner is still at large as of right now. The suspect left behind an 11-page manifesto in which he wrote, and I'm quoting now from that manifesto, "This is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy, but must partake and complete."

Dorner also has a Facebook page. CNN's Tom Foreman has been taking a closer look at that. What do you see there, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, we don't know as often if this is actually his page, but it seems to be and it was set up very recently, just on January 21st, a page was set up under Chris Dorner's name, some details about his life, that sort of thing.

And then the next day, more than 200 photographs were dumped into this site, things that seemed to chronicle the passage of a person's life. You mentioned that manifesto a minute ago. He said that this may not seem like the smiling guy that you've known all of these years.

Many of these photographs would portray him to be a happy person going through his life. This is him being recognized by a former police Chief Bill Bratton. He's wearing a military uniform there.

Some pictures of military service also included as part of all of this and smiling times apparently as a police officer when he appeared to be happy there. He also posted online some of the commendations and recognitions that he received as a member of the police department.

And then he went to some things that are basically like the manifesto, statements of political thought. This photograph of Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, only one of them is a convicted felon.

There is a symbol from the group "Anonymous," which we know has created a lot of turmoil in a lot of places. And this picture of a tombstone with the family name Dorner on it. We don't know if this is a family tombstone or what this is all about, Wolf.

But we do know that as I said, this Facebook page was set up very recently, saw a tremendous amount of activity in a very short period of time in terms of a lot of information being dumped there. So no doubt something that authorities are also looking at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Obviously, he is still on the loose right now and police are searching all over Southern California for him. All right, Tom, stand by. We're going to get more information. We'll have much more on this developing story here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's turn now to what is going on right here in Washington. Catholic bishops are responding to the Obama administration's latest proposal for providing women with contraception coverage and they are not happy about it. Let's break it down in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us is CNN political analyst Cornell Belcher. He was a Democratic pollster for the Obama 2012 campaign and CNN contributor, the former Bush White House speechwriter David Frum. He's a contributing editor over at the "Daily Beast" and "Newsweek" as well.

The administration had come up with a thought was a resolution of this whole issue of Catholic institutions, whether hospitals or universities and contraception benefits for women but now not so fast.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says this, among other things. "It appears that the government would require all employees in our accommodated ministries to have the illicit coverage they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children under a separate policy. The stakes are so high, we will not cease from our effort to assure that health care for all does not mean freedom for few." So what does that mean?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we have to take a step back to go to the beginning of the story. This is a confrontation that Vice President Biden tried to warn the administration away from before the election.

Catholic Church is one of the largest providers of social services in the country if not aside from government itself, the very largest. Historically, they have been given wide leeway by federal state and local governments to do their good works the way that they think is called for.

Because if they didn't feel they were fulfilling a religious mandate, they wouldn't be doing this good works in the first place, hospitals, adoption services, all kinds of important things. The government historically has said, you do it your way and we will not second guess you.

The Obama administration took a big step forward to second guessing and they then took a half step backward. The Catholic Church is saying, can we please go back to the pre-2008 understanding of the relationship between social services and the government? You let us do it our way. We're doing good work.

BLITZER: Cornell, as you know Vice President Biden is a Catholic.

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, this is sort -- there is a question in my head about this because, you know, when I read of what the White House has said. They are basically saying, you know, if you have religious issues with this, you can opt out.

So I'm really scratching my head about this. Again, I think the majority of Americans are where the president is on this. We have the largest gender gap in modern times in the last election so it's fairly clear where women are on this issue. I think the Catholic Church needs to come to the 21st Century on this issue and stop fighting this, frankly.

FRUM: Well, if you would like to join the Catholic Church and argue from within. It's not for those of us who are not Catholics to tell the Catholic Church how to organize -- of course, the majority of Americans disagree, the majority of Americans are not Catholics. They are an important minority, but they are only a minority and they deserve, as all religious groups do, such important good work some latitude.

BELCHER: You know what? The women who work for those organizations deserve their freedom, too. They didn't opt out of being American just because they work for a Catholic organization.

FRUM: You know, when we look at any organization, it's always possible to find inside that organization, people don't like the way the organization runs things. But the question is, are we going to empower those individuals at the expense of abolishing all kinds of religious leeway.

I'm Jewish. I don't agree with all of the teachings of the Salvation Army. I don't agree with all of the teachings of the Mormon Church, it is -- I respect the work they do. They need their liberty.

BELCHER: I disagree with the fact that we're abolishing their freedom. If we're allowing women the right to choose and belong to this organization, I don't understand why we're putting the organization above individual rights.

BLITZER: We're going to get some reaction from the White House on this latest statement from Cardinal Dolan and see where we go from here. Very quickly, John Brennan, as the CIA director, he's getting a pretty tough grilling today. Do you think he's going to have any problem getting confirmed?

FRUM: That was a tough grilling.

BLITZER: He's being asked some tough questions.

FRUM: He's being asked some tough questions, but I think that they are -- he's getting a lot of personal deference and respect. And a lot of the tough questionings are actually re-litigating old fights about the CIA. They are not criticizing John Brennan. They are criticizing the institution that he is going to head.

BELCHER: And coming from Democrats, a lot of tough stuff --

BLITZER: Right. They don't like his role in the enhanced interrogation, the Guantanamo Bay when he was a CIA officer or necessarily what was going on with drones targeting U.S. citizens.

BELCHER: Here's a problem I think David would agree with me. After 9/11, I think the American people gave the executive branch extraordinary leeway to sort of keep us safe.

BLITZER: Is that good or bad?

BELCHER: I think it's ultimately a good thing because sort of keeping us safe is the premium. The executive branch gets away with stuff that frankly before 9/11 they couldn't.

So for those senators who are, you know, drilling Brennan, the problem is this. You're really trying to block the guy who was the architect for aggressively killing people or trying to kill us. You don't want to be on that side of this discussion.

BLITZER: Guys, we've got to leave it right there. Let's continue to watch Brennan's confirmation hearing as well. Thanks for coming in.

It's a story of uncommon valor and battle. We're going to the front lines of Afghanistan as a staff sergeant leads his fellow soldiers against a brutal fight against insurgents.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Former Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha is set to receive the American military's highest honor. He led his team in a fight against hundreds of insurgents trying to overrun his combat outpost in the mountains of Afghanistan.

CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper takes us inside the frontlines of one of the deadliest attacks against American forces there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Combat outpost Keating was built in 2006. With so many troops and assets deployed to Iraq, those in Afghanistan had to make do. One part of the strategy was to build small outpost as the U.S. pushed into eastern Afghanistan. The location was a trap, evident from the moment Romesha's troop arrived in May 2009.

(on camera): What was your first reaction?

CLINTON ROMESHA, FORMER U.S. ARMY STAFF SERGEANT: The first reaction was I think as everybody that stood there, this is a pretty indefensible spot.

CHRIS JONES, FORMER U.S. ARMY PFC: I thought we were supposed to be on top of a map. This is crazy. I mean, that's how I felt, shooting it up. I was there, you know. I can't be like, this is stupid.

TAPPER: This is a part of the world, the Hindu Kush mountain range where you're either on a mountain or in a valley. In order to be near the local population and near the road so it could be re-supplied, combat outpost Keating was put at the bottom of three steep mountains.

Soldiers have been fatally attacked there before, in 2007, Private Chris Pfifer. In 2008, camp commander, Captain Rob Yestes and near there, a different camp commander, Captain Tom Bostic.

As lethal as its position was the outpost's terrain. The camp was named for Lieutenant Ben Keating killed when his truck rolled over the treacherous side of the road leading to the camp.

ROMESHA: I knew it was a bad spot and knew that previous commanders had expired there. But to sit there and dig up every little detail on it, you know, it wasn't healthy for the guys to be exposed to that kind of information.

TAPPER: So your very first day at Combat Outpost Keating there was an attack and a soldier with the platoon leaving, Shane, got a massive head wound. Other people got sprinkled with shrapnel.

ROMESHA: It gave you that instant sense we're not over here selling girl scout cookies, guys. We're in a real fight.

TAPPER (voice-over): Romesha and his men knew it was not a question of if there would be a major attack but when.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jake is joining us now. Jake, you can see such emotion from this Sergeant Romesha. How is he feeling now, looking back at what happened in October of 2009?

TAPPER: He's a very modest guy. That will come across in our special tonight at 10:00 Eastern. He's a very humble guy. He's one that doesn't like talking so much about his own valorous action. He talks about how it was just a job.

He liked to praise the men who served under him when he led them to take the camp back when it was overran by the Taliban. He's somebody who is very aware of things that did not go the way of the Americans that day.

He blames himself still for troops that were lost that day, even though there's nothing that he could have done to save them, they are still very, very tough on him receives when it comes to the eight men that were killed that day.

BLITZER: He is a real, real hero and he will be honored as he should be. Jake, thanks very much. I want to alert our viewers, Jake has a special tonight. Jake Tapper Reports "An American Hero" it airs at 10:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

John Brennan wasn't the only administration official taking some heat up on Capitol Hill today. Up next, the reason the outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is giving for why the U.S. military could not save American lives in Benghazi.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today the nation's top defense officials try to explain why the U.S. military couldn't come to the aid of the United States Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other U.S. personnel who died during last September's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

But what started as an impartial hearing quickly turned into a political blame game. CNN Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is joining us now with details. Chris, it got pretty ugly at certain points?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's an understatement, Wolf. I mean, at one point, an exasperated Leon Panetta said, look, the U.S. military is not some 911 service that can arrive on the scene within minutes anywhere in the world.

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LAWRENCE (voice-over): Pentagon officials took the stand, but it seemed like President Obama was the one on trial.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Did the president show any curiosity about how is this going, what kind of assets do you have helping these people? Did he ever make that phone call?

LAWRENCE: Senators demanded to know why they didn't place assets close enough to help stop the siege on the American consulate.

GRAHAM: Were there any AC-130 gunships within 1,000 miles of Benghazi, Libya?

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: No, sir. LAWRENCE: The fact is, the closest gun ship was in Afghanistan, more than 4,000 miles away. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta argues they didn't have enough intel to use it anyway.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: You can't just willy-nilly send F- 16s there and blow the hell out of a place without knowing what's taking place.

LAWRENCE: Panetta says they can't be everywhere and pointing to 281 threats to diplomats, consulates and ambassadors around the world.

PANETTA: Obviously Benghazi was one of those almost 300 areas of concern.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I've seen some of those estimates and none of them rose to the level of the threat in Benghazi.

LAWRENCE: Pentagon officials say they were aware the consulate needed security help.

DEMPSEY: General Hamm actually called the embassy to see if they wanted to extend the special security team there and was told no.

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Your responses, General Dempsey, are very inadequate and, in my opinion, the same kind of inadequacy for the security that you provided at that consulate.

LAWRENCE: In the end, the questioning came back to the president, what he knew and when.

GRAHAM: Did you ever call him and say, Mr. President, it looks like we don't have anything to get there any time soon?

PANETTA: I -- the event was over before --

GRAHAM: It lasted almost eight hours.

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LAWRENCE: Wow. You know, the Marines did not have a guard unit obviously at the mission in Benghazi, but that could be changing. Secretary Panetta hinted that more training and equipment could be coming to those guard units and also an expanded mission beyond their core priority of protecting classified materials at these compounds -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. They've got to learn the lessons from what happened in Benghazi to make sure it never happens again. Chris Lawrence, thanks very much.

Violent protests are once again raging in the same place that the so- called Arab spring was born. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's the latest? LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the violence still continues. Police armed with teargas canisters are battling these protesters that have erupted in the capital of Tunisia. After a brief calm overnight, it's the second day of protest after a popular leader was gunned down yesterday. No one has claimed responsibility for that attack. Late Wednesday, the prime minister dissolved his cabinet and called for new elections.

And the Federal Reserve is admitting that it has been hacked. The fed is warning banks that e-mail addresses, phone numbers and other contact information had been stolen and published. A fed spokesman said hackers exploited, rather, a quote "temporary vulnerability" that has since been fixed. The hacker group "Anonymous" has claimed responsibility for that attack.

And Japan's military scrambles combat jets after it says two Russian jets entered its air space. The defense ministry says they left about a minute later without incident. Russia denies the charge.

The jets were near islands disputed by the two countries since World War II and it's the second recent territorial dispute for Japan after it accused China of putting a radar lock on one of its vessels near these disputed islands in the East China Sea. We reported on that yesterday and now we see more action on that.

BLITZER: We'll see if the third day, tomorrow, see what happens then. All right, thanks very much, Lisa, for that report. A little worrisome on what's going on between China and Japan.

We're looking into some mysterious court hearings involving one of Washington's most notorious murder cases. Up next, why there's so much secrecy surrounding the new developments in the killing of the young intern Chandra Levy.

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BLITZER: It's a case that gripped the nation. A young intern missing for a year and then found murdered in a wooded area right here in the nation's capital. A man was convicted of killing Chandra Levy in 2010, but some secretive hearings going on in Washington today are adding a new layer of intrigue to this case.

Our Brian Todd is over at the courthouse watching what is going on. What's happening at this hearing, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, reporters are being let into the courtroom but we are not being told the substance of these hearings. What we do know from attorneys and court papers is that the hearings have to do with the safety of someone involved and the reliability of a witness.

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TODD (voice-over): A case that many of us had thought ended more than two years is revived in mysterious court hearings. The man convicted in 2010 of murdering Washington intern Chandra Levy is brought back into D.C. superior court, displaying a large tattoo covering his scalp.

This is the fourth hearing in the past two months and the court has ordered the contents of all of them to be kept from the public, despite legal appeals from the media.

PATRICK CAROME, ATTORNEY FOR MEDIA: We're very disappointed with the court leaving in place essentially blanket secrecy.

TODD: Secrecy that could last for months. Media lawyer says the judge has a concern over safety of someone involved in the case. No one is allowed to say who.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This was a terrible crime of violence. The witnesses have histories of violence. So there could be violence threatened against any number of people, participants or even outsiders to the case.

TODD: Levy, an intern with the Bureau of Prisons, disappeared in May 2001. Her remains were not found until a year after her disappearance. Prosecutors said Guandique killed Levy in a park in Washington. He has repeatedly denied involvement.

The case generated a swarm of media coverage in part because it was revealed Chandra Levy had an affair with then Congressman Gary Condit. Condit testified at Guandique's trial, but denied having anything to do with Levy's disappearance and was never charged. What are these new secret hearings about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This relates to some information relating to the reliability of a government witness.

TODD: Armando Morales, a convicted felon and former gang member testified that Guandique confessed to him in jail that he killed Levy, but it's not clear if Morales is the witness whose testimony is in question.

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TODD: There were two other key witnesses testifying in Ingmar Guandique trial, two women who testified that he attacked them in the same park. It's not clear if either of those two women are the witnesses in question either.

I spoke to Chandra Levy's father, Robert, earlier today. He said that the family is not being told that anything is going on, but he is concerned that something is going to happen with the conviction of (inaudible) -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Gary Condit, all these years later, do we know what happened -- where is he now?

TODD: Well, Wolf, he's been pretty elusive over the past few years. We do know that he invested in two Baskin-Robbins stores in the Phoenix area in the late 2000s. That deal went sour and he did not pay franchise fee. He was ordered to pay some $45,000 in franchise fees in a court dispute out in the Phoenix area but other than that, he's not made much news in the last few years.

BLITZER: Brian Todd at the courthouse for us. Let us know what happens. Thank you.