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Uncovered classified cable could be Benghazi attack's 'smoking gun warning' - why didn't Obama save four Americans?

State Department warned less than a month before deadly attacks about al Qaeda, that US consulate couldn't defend against coordinated assault

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 31, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Disturbing new information about Benghazi and the Obama administration. Fox News obtained a classified cable sent in August from the U.S. mission in Benghazi to the State Department in Washington. The cable, coming just weeks before the attack, warned the Benghazi consulate could not sustain a coordinated attack.

But that is not all that was in that cable. Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge, who has read that cable, is here with the latest -- Catherine.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the status of the cable is that I really believe, having read it, that it is the smoking gun warning here. You've got this emergency meeting in Benghazi less than a month before the attack. At that briefing, the people are told that there are 10 -- 10 -- Islamist militias and al Qaeda groups in Benghazi.

The consulate cannot sustain a coordinated attack and that they need extra help. And this information goes directly to the office of the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. So again, you're got the culpability of the State Department. This is a very specific warning that they are in trouble, they need help and they see an attack on the horizon.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, what's the date on this cable?

HERRIDGE: It's the 16th of August.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any response or any indication that there's been any direct response to that cable between the 16th of August and the 11th of September?

HERRIDGE: I don't know what the classified traffic was between the 16th and the 11th, but I asked the State Department today specifically, given the warnings and how detailed they were and the intelligence that al Qaeda and these militias were operating in Benghazi, was any extra security considered or put in place in light of the 9/11 anniversary? You're three weeks out. I think that's the critical question.

And the State Department said to me today they wouldn't comment because it's classified. And they are also waiting for the outcome of this investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who was the signatory to the cable?

HERRIDGE: Ambassador Stevens.

VAN SUSTEREN: And you say that it was -- it went to the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Was there any indication that it actually went to her? I mean, I don't know what the office (INAUDIBLE) the office could be -- as far as I know, could be 60 people down a chain of command.

HERRIDGE: The copy to her, and then it routes (ph) out, in this case, probably, typically to diplomatic security, their Near East Asia desk and others. But it is specifically addressed to her office.

VAN SUSTEREN: How did you get to see it?

HERRIDGE: It came to me through confidential sources.

VAN SUSTEREN: And why -- I mean, it sounds to me that things are starting to break down because we're starting to get, you know, information from -- from different sources. Both you and Jennifer Griffin are getting it. Is there sort of a brewing dissatisfaction in how this administration is disseminating or not disseminating information?

HERRIDGE: I can't speak for why these sources come forward, but I believe, based on this cable, that the point that was being made that they wanted made publicly, not just in a classified setting, is that the warning that came from Benghazi was very specific.

It said, We cannot withstand an attack. The militias are everywhere. Al Qaeda is here. This was known to the U.S. intelligence community, as well, and that they really could not see a situation where the security was going to turn around. They said it was trending negatively.

This comes three weeks, three-and-a-half weeks before the attack. I can't think of anything that would be more specific than if these groups had emailed the State Department and said, Here's the time, here's the place and here's the method of the attack, because the cable names the two groups, al Qaeda and Ansar al Sharia, that we believe were responsible for this assault.

VAN SUSTEREN: How long is this cable? I mean, is it a page, two pages?

HERRIDGE: It's a little over a page.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it's quite detailed.

HERRIDGE: It's very detailed. There can be no doubt that this is really a cry for help from the people on the ground. They also talk at length that they think the 17th February Brigade -- this is the Libyan militia that's supposed to be friendly to the United States that's really tasked with being the police force in Benghazi, has been infiltrated by our enemies.

It says the 17th February Brigade is not sharing information with the Americans anymore. So that's us. And we had information right after the attack that this brigade just kind of melted away during the attack. They were nowhere to be found.

VAN SUSTEREN: What would be the reason or is there any reason supplied as to why that cable wasn't acted on? Is there any -- is there any sort of -- I mean, did the person you spoke to -- does anybody have any idea? Did it get lost in the shuffle or there was a diplomatic or political reason? Or is there any reason it wasn't acted on?

HERRIDGE: Well, someone has said to me, looking at this whole story, don't see a conspiracy when you can just see incompetency. I think we sometimes know that things move very slowly in Washington, D.C. So I think that's -- I think that's one element.

But if you couple this with the fact that we were coming up to the 9/11 anniversary and you couple this with the statements that a videotape was somehow responsible, what you see is that that is completely undercut. This cable says the militias and al Qaeda are here. We essentially think that we are next.

So to take this attack and to suggest for such a long period of time that it was a video, when you have this classified cable in the intelligence? It just doesn't match up!

VAN SUSTEREN: What is your -- why do you think that we're not getting much information out of the administration? Is it in part because it's the CIA or is it a situation where they're trying to cover mistakes?

HERRIDGE: I believe they're trying to have a real investigation. I believe that we are also in the middle of something called an election, in the final days. And what I see is a growing body of evidence that the State Department has culpability for the death of the ambassador and those three Americans.

The warnings were specific. They were direct. They named the enemy. And they said that this consulate needed more support. And it also indicated in the cable that the consulate should probably move long-term into the annex. We now know that's the CIA facility in Benghazi.

VAN SUSTEREN: Catherine, thank you. And obviously, very disturbing. And you know, working in Washington, we all know people who are at the State Department and how hard they work and they want to take such good care of their people. So you know, it's -- there's no...

HERRIDGE: I think it's important that the people who lost their lives have themselves honored with the facts, and I think we're starting to get the facts.

VAN SUSTEREN: Without any doubt. I'm in agreement with you on that. It's -- you know, the facts need to -- as -- we need to get the facts. Catherine, thank you.

HERRIDGE: Thank you very much.

VAN SUSTEREN: And right now, more and new accusations over the handling of the Libya attack. Congressman Jason Chaffetz joins us.

Good evening, sir.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, R-UTAH: Hi, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Were you able to listen to Catherine Herridge's report about this cable?

CHAFFETZ: Yes. Being a classified piece of material, I really can't comment on it. But I will tell you that we were bombed on June 6th. That was a terrorist attack. We knew full well what happened then.

And I would also point to an unclassified cable that went on September 4th. This went from Ambassador Stevens back to the State Department. Because on September 1st, the interior minister there for Libya put them on high alert, saying, We're losing control in eastern Libya.

So it was crystal clear from unclassified material that they were losing control and the militias were taking over. Their al Qaeda and al Qaeda-related organizations were flying flags above government buildings there in Benghazi!

VAN SUSTEREN: Explain to me -- all right, the 9-16 cable about which Catherine just spoke, and the 9-4-1 that you spoke about -- both have, you know -- you know, important information. One's classified, one's not. What would be -- why would one be classified and not the other, and who makes that determination?

CHAFFETZ: Well, the State Department has some very rigid rules about that, and I think the ambassador was abiding by those. But we -- again, I can't comment on the classified. But let's remember, back when we were bombed...

VAN SUSTEREN: But what...

CHAFFETZ: ... on June 6th -- go ahead. Sorry.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm curious, like, you know, I'm always curious whether the class -- class -- making a document classified is a very convenient way to keep things out of the hands of the public. I'm trying to figure out, you know, how you classify something. You just say it's classified and that's it and it's -- and it's protected or what?

CHAFFETZ: Well, oftentimes, there are specific informations about sources and methods, maybe specific people that are involved that are perhaps helping our government. We don't want those revealed or those people killed. And so that would put it into a degree of classification, where others, as more general information, that you can hand to anybody and they could read. And the information the committee has been talking about and released is in the unclassified category.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, just a short time after 9/11, you made a trip to Libya. And you had a number of conversations. And you spoke to even the deputy chief of mission in Tripoli. Did he tell you anything that he knew that night about what had happened that night?

CHAFFETZ: You know, he related this story which I haven't shared before. He's a good man. His name's Gregory Hicks. And I -- I think he's trying to do the right thing.

He said that shortly after 9:40 PM, what happened is his phone rang. And he didn't recognize the number, so he didn't answer it. Then it rang again. Again, he didn't answer it because he didn't recognize the number.

But then, given the persistence, he did answer it. It was Ambassador Stevens. And Ambassador Stevens was saying, We're under attack. We're under attack.

Now, I can't say that he told me specifically that he was asking for help, but that's kind of what I -- I read into it. He hung up the phone. He immediately called in to Washington, D.C., to trigger all the mechanisms that needed to be put on, and then he wasn't able to contact them. And there were hours and hours where we didn't know where our ambassador was.

But the trauma, the -- the real-life trauma that he went through -- I mean, I really felt it in his voice. It was -- it was hard to listen to. He's -- he's gone through a lot, but he did a great job.

VAN SUSTEREN: Number of U.S. senators who've signed a letter to president -- in fact, I think there have been seven letters to -- from the Senate to President Obama or his administration asking for answers. Senator Pat Roberts sent one over today. And also, Armed Services chair McKeon has sent a letter over in the House. Have you seen the letter?

CHAFFETZ: Yes, Buck McKeon, in fact, I chatted with him this morning. He's chairman of Armed Services, doing a great job. And his letter, in essence, says, Mr. President, you said you gave a direct order to protect all of those people and make sure that we secure those people in Benghazi, but the military does -- you know, needs an order from you.

I talked specifically to General Ham. He's a four-star general. He told me personally he did not get a directive from the White House from the president of the United States to engage in the firefight to help protect those people.

Mr. President, you can't have it both ways. You can't say that you're doing everything you can to protect the people in Benghazi, when we're under attack, a firefight that starts at 9:40 at night, goes until the wee hours of the morning, and say you did everything when the military did not engage.

And Buck McKeon is spot on. He's pushing the president on this. He issued a letter. It's on the Web site today of the Armed Services Committee, and people should look at it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Could it be possible that the president's statement do everything you can was, you know, for better or for worse, it turned out to be sort of an ambiguous one and that the -- that the military didn't see it as a directive, and you know, these things have unfolded in a miserable, horrible, terrible way?

CHAFFETZ: We're in a firefight. If there's ambiguity, that's the president's problem! The president is supposed to be in command! He can't go out and tell the public, I did everything we could to protect the people in Benghazi. That's not true! We got four dead Americans! We got people sitting in a hospital tonight with their loved ones and their friends!

You can't have it both ways, Mr. President! It is not -- the military is very structured. If they were ordered to do so, they would have gone in there and helped save those people. But they did not because I don't believe the president gave that order!

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's interesting. Senator Roberts's letter today -- he's asking the president to answer questions and he's -- he's saying that -- he said members of the armed forces are now questioning the sacred bond of never leaving a comrade in distress or danger. So that's -- you know, this is sort of unraveling in many different directions.

CHAFFETZ: Three things the military did. They sent in a fast team of Marines the day after into Tripoli. They sent up drones to look at the situation. And then they helped with the evacuation. But they did not engage in the firefight! We had proximity. We had capability. The president did not pull the trigger! He did not go in and help save those people!

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, thank you, sir. Hope that we do sometime get answers because a lot of questions here. Thank you, sir.

CHAFFETZ: Thank you.