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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

U.S. Government Buildings Attacked; September 11 Warnings Ignored?

Aired September 11, 2012 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we begin tonight with breaking news. On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Americans and American symbols in two Arab countries tonight are under attack by radical Islamist forces, and someone at the American Consulate in Benghazi is dead. Unclear if that person is an American citizen.

Now, the State Department says it doesn't have independent confirmation of that death.

An eyewitness, though, says it began with a radical Islamist group showing up to protest a Web video they call anti-Muslim. It started out peacefully, but escalated quickly. The group is still on consulate grounds.

In Cairo, the American Embassy was under attack all day with fundamentalist protesters now camped out just outside its walls, also apparently outraged by that same video. They stormed the compound, climbed the walls, taking down American flags, replacing them with a black flag with an Islamic inscription on it.

Nearly all embassy staffers had left before the protest. There's a Marine contingent on the ground and Egyptian security forces nearby.

CNN's Ian Lee is on the ground in Cairo. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is monitoring developments from Tripoli and joins us by phone. Mona Eltahawy is a journalist on the phone from Cairo. Also on the phone is national security analyst Fran Townsend. She is a CNN national security contributor and a member of the CIA External Advisory Committee. And, last she visited Libya with her employer MacAndrews & Forbes.

Ian Lee, I want to start with you.

You saw hundreds storming the U.S. Embassy where -- there in Cairo. Who are these protesters exactly? How widespread is this anger? And what's the situation with the Americans in that embassy right now since the ambassador lives there and a group of Marines were also there?

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the Marines who are there are stationed as part of the diplomatic mission to secure the embassy and it's actually one of the largest contingents of Marines protecting a U.S. Embassy in the world. But these protesters, they were predominantly Islamists, people who were angry about a film that came out which depicts -- which they say depicts Mohammed in a bad light, which they say insults the prophet.

They say that it's -- it calls him a womanizer, it calls him a homosexual, it calls him someone who molests children, basically things that Muslims would find offensive.

So there was roughly a thousand people out there going and we saw a handful of people actually stormed the embassy perimeter. They tore down the American flag. Security forces were off on the side. They eventually did show up to separate the protesters from the embassy. But it was a bit late -- later after the protesters were able to get in there.

That's a question a lot of people are asking is why the security forces didn't come soon enough and Egyptian officials are also right now trying to -- trying to figure out why they didn't have the response that they said they would have.

COOPER: I want to go to Benghazi in Libya, to Jomana who is there.

You're in Tripoli. You've been talking to a source in Benghazi where this person working at the consulate was just -- was just confirmed killed. What's the latest that you're hearing on the situation there?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Anderson, according to the eyewitness, up until about an hour he described the situation there as a front line. Libyan security forces were engaged in heavy clashes with members of an armed group that is Ansar al-Sharia, that is a radical military group that is based in eastern Libya. He also reported rocket-propelled grenades hitting the consulate building. Libyan Army troops were deployed. Roads to the consulate were blocked off by military vehicles.

There are conflicting reports on what the situation is there right now. A Libyan government official is telling us that the building has been secured by the Libyan military, but according to this eyewitness, members of the group had stormed the consulate building and taken over the building and were celebrating and looting the consulate.

There have been condemnations issued, but at the same time, Anderson, there are also calls on social media sites for more protests in Benghazi and here in the capital Tripoli.

COOPER: And Fran, you were just there in Libya last week and obviously concerned about the deteriorating security situation. Add this to the backdrop of what's going on in Egypt. How big a deal is this -- I mean, this kind of a situation?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, we should be very clear. One such breach of an embassy or consulate's walls or security on any given day would be tremendous news. It's very rare. Americans remember the takeover of the consulate in Tehran in 1979. This is a huge event, if one of these happened. The fact that two of them happened on the same day, that is the 9/11 anniversary where Americans are remembering those that we lost, you have to ask yourself what are American officials trying to understand about this and whether or not these are related.

You know, this notion that it's about a movie, Anderson, there have been calls for the protests in Cairo, this has been -- the Egyptian officials understood there was a protest planned. How did this day get picked and how did it wind up in two places? You know, and to have lost an American, I think we shouldn't underestimate the significance of this.

COOPER: And Fran, you're basically saying that you believe these were coordinated attacks in some way. I mean, what's so interesting is this video is not new to YouTube. It was apparently posted back in July. So you see a -- some sort of hand in organization here?

TOWNSEND: Well, I do think -- look, this group is, as our colleague reported, this is an extremist group in Libya. There have been increasing concerns about al Qaeda presence in the east of Libya, in -- just near a sea called Derna. Derna is to the east of Benghazi. And I think, look, the -- American officials will be looking to see -- we've not heard any confirmation that these are in any way related.

It's just that these two very significant events in the same day, it'd be natural that you would be looking now, American officials have to be looking to see whether or not they can find a connection between these two events.

COOPER: And, Fran, you pointed out that an American was killed we haven't been able to confirm was an American, it was just somebody at the U.S. consulate, an official at the consulate. We're trying to find out more, obviously, on the identity of the person.

Ian, you watched the video that they're protesting. Do we know who posted it, who made it, where it comes from?

LEE: What we're hearing, Anderson, is that there were a couple Coptic Christians who -- come from here Egypt. This is a Christian minority sect here in Egypt that were involved in the making of it. And this is why there's rage for the U.S. government is -- or the United States because protesters are blaming the U.S. for allowing this video to come out, and they're saying the U.S. is accountable and responsible for the fact that they allowed a video like this to go out there and to be -- to be spread out there.

So that's why these protesters are definitely angry and directing their anger toward the United States.

COOPER: Mona, being there in Cairo, why do you think this is happening now? I mean, who benefits?

MONA ELTAHAWY, JOURNALIST & COMMENTATOR: Well, that's a great question, Anderson, because, you know, we're in a stage right now in Egypt where the resolution that began last year for freedoms of all kind is still very much not completed. And a big concern for many people in Egypt today is that these terrible events will be used by the government to justify a return to emergency law.

We still don't have a constitution in Egypt, we don't have a parliament in Egypt. Our president and prime minister have been missing in action all day. They have made no official statement. And so you basically have a fringe element that claims to represent us, and it doesn't.

On a day and at a time when Egyptians are still very much trying to decide which way our -- which way our revolution is going, freedom of expression must be a right, as is freedom to protest. But the question here is, why was today chosen and why was the protest taking place at the U.S. Embassy and who called for this protest?

As you mentioned or as we heard earlier, this one has been on YouTube for several -- for several weeks now. So this -- you know, we have to think back to the time of the Danish cartoons, which were published in October of 2005, but the protests against them didn't start until January of 2006. And much of that -- many of those protests were what I called manufactured outrage that was used for political gain by both regimes and Islamist groups.

And what we don't want to happen in Egypt now is for us to be stuck by an extreme right-wing element which are the Salafists and a president and his government, which I consider right-wing, composed of -- well, the president is from the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and we don't want to be stuck between these two because our revolution was for social justice and for liberty, not to go up to the American Embassy and bring down the flag.

COOPER: Fran, just from a security standpoint, had Egyptian government forces, had the military forces wanted to stop protesters from scaling over the walls, I mean, they could have done that just as they could have stopped people from attacking each other in Tahrir Square? Had they not just stood by and watch?

TOWNSEND: Absolutely, Anderson. Look, this is -- and this is not -- to Mona's point, this -- the protest today was not a surprise. We've heard from sources that there were -- there were warnings about this days ago. And so if this -- if Egyptian officials and the military, security officials were on notice about this, we've got to ask ourselves, why weren't they there before the protest began?

You know, prepositioned to assure that they could keep protesters a safe distance from the embassy and protect the embassy. But this is not the first time the Egyptian security officials have failed to do that. You know it wasn't that long ago when the wall of the Israeli embassy in Cairo was also breached.

And so, look, there are real questions about Egyptian official's commitment to protecting diplomatic establishments in Cairo.

COOPER: We'll continue to follow details on the ground. Mona Eltahawy, appreciate it. Jomana as well. Fran Townsend and Ian Lee. Thanks very much. Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, follow me on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper.

Up next, a reporter who says he's seen evidence that warnings of the 9/11 attack were downplayed in part because some in the Bush administration believed al Qaeda was bluffing, the real threat was Saddam Hussein. Now as you might imagine, those claims, that argument is causing an uproar. The author who's made that argument, Kurt Eichenwald, he joins us. So does Ari Fleischer.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back.

Tonight: a controversy that touches a very raw nerve. Tonight 11 years after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 with steel and glass rising in Lower Manhattan there are still two beams of light to remind people of what fell. There are two memorial fountains cut into the ground to remind people of what once stood on this spot where nearly 2,800 people died.

These 16 acres in Lower Manhattan are being rebuilt both as office space, museum and memorial. Whatever is built, though, no one will ever forget. Not here in Lower Manhattan or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, or the Pentagon where President Obama and top commanders lay a wreath this morning.

The legacy of 9/11 is still being felt not as memory or history but as current event. The war that was launched to avenge the attacks is still being fought, lives still being lost. The wounds in this case include real physical life-changing injuries.

So when a story comes out that delves into whether these entire 11 years of anguish might have been avoided in some way it obviously touches a nerve. That fact -- the fact that the story came out today on the 9/11 anniversary in the heat of an election campaign has led some to call it a political hatchet job, an attack. And it's not our intention tonight to look at this through a partisan lens, only to try to lay out the claims and the counterclaims and the facts that we know.

The story, in a nutshell, centers on what President Bush and other top officials knew before this unforgettable moment when the president was informed of the attacks. Kurt Eichenwald has done the reporting. He lays it out in a "New York Times" op-ed, titled, "The Deafness Before the Storm." It was published today. It uses this famous briefing as a jumping off on dated August 6, 2001 entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike U.S."

This is the only such document ever to be declassified and as you'll remember the Bush administration maintained that title notwithstanding, this was not, I repeat, not a clear-cut warning of a strike in the United States about to happen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, August 6 is most certainly an historical document that says here's how you might think about al Qaeda. A warning is when you have something that suggests that an attack is impending. And we did not have -- on the United States -- threat information that was in any way specific enough to suggest that something was coming in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice there.

Kurt Eichenwald concedes that her argument is plausible, unless, he says, you look at a whole string of other classified daily briefs that preceded it. He says he has seen portions of many of them and quote, "come to an inescapable conclusion the administration's reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed." Those were his words.

Now full disclosure we have not seen what Mr. Eichenwald says he's seen. He joins us shortly, though, to talk about it. We do know from the report of the 9/11 Commission that there were 40 other mentions of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in presidential daily briefs prior to 9/11. But Mr. Eichenwald goes further than that and reports that direct warnings about the al Qaeda attacking the U.S. began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, he reports the CIA told the White House of a report that -- quote -- "A group present in the United States," unquote, was planning a terrorist operation.

He says the June 22 daily brief reported that al Qaeda strikes could be -- quote -- "imminent." And this tracks with the recollection of former anti-terrorism official Richard Clarke, who served in both the Clinton and Bush administrations and has written a sharply critical book about his experiences.

In 2004 he told NBC News about a June 21st meeting he sat in on with CIA director George Tenet and Condoleezza Rice. He says -- quote -- "We sat on the national security adviser's office. And I have used the phrase in the book to describe George Tenet's warnings, as -- quote -- 'he had his hair on fire. ' He was about as excited as I would ever seen him. And he said, something is going to happen."

And I he later told "60 Minutes," and as the Bush administration denies, Mr. Clarke says the warnings were ignored by then President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER U.S. COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Now, again, that is sharply disputed by members of the Bush administration, but it does track with what Mr. Eichenwald is saying in his op-ed today.

Kurt Eichenwald joins us now. He's a "Vanity Fair" contributing editor and author of "500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars." Also with us is Ari Fleischer who is press secretary for President George W. Bush.

So, Mr. Eichenwald, you acknowledge at the end of your op-ed that there is no way to be sure that the Bush administration could have prevented the attacks but you also used the word "negligence" to describe their actions. How do you reconcile the daylight between those statements? Because just in re-reading the 9/11 Commission report today, there were a number of warnings and a number of advisories that went out, a lot of them for overseas postings, for the U.S. military, for U.S. embassies, for ambassadors. But also some in the United States, as well.

KURT EICHENWALD, AUTHOR, "500 DAYS": Well, there's a huge difference between putting the government on high alert and saying we're going to put out some warnings. I mean, the last time, prior to the summer of 2001, the last time there had been anything on the scale of what they were seeing at that period was in December of 1999. And at that point, the entire government went on high alert.

You had -- in fact, the counterterrorist center at the CIA was told, blow through your budget, and they spent everything they had from January through September in about 15 days. And multiple terrorist attacks were stopped, including one in the United States. We don't remember much about this, because everything was stopped.

Now, was the Bush administration -- did they have enough information to take the same kind of action? All of the people who were involved in the 1999 intelligence gathering and in the gathering in the summer of 2001 tell me they were virtually identical. It was the same level of severity.

COOPER: Ari Fleischer, I want to bring you in here. You have two problems with this. A, just on a factual basis with the allegations being made and the details of it and also the publishing of this on this day.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Anderson, that's exactly right. One, September 11th is the day we should remember the victims. You know, I do not think it's appropriate on a day like this for somebody to leave out so many facts, attack one person, especially when the attack is so over-the-top partisan and we all know Mr. Eichenwald's politics are very rapidly anti-Republican.

I'm surprised "The New York Times" would have printed such a piece on a day like today. It's just wrong to do it today.

But two, on the facts of it. If what he was saying was accurate, then you would have thought the -- the 9/11 Commission would have picked up on it. They had access to every classified, top secret documents, they had access to every presidential daily brief. They read them all. And they reached no such conclusion. In fact the great distortion of what Mr. Eichenwald was saying is that on the summer of 2001 when the head of the CIA said the system was blinking red, it was all about Europe or Asia. That's...

(CROSSTALK)

EICHENWALD: That's simply untrue, Ari.

COOPER: Well, let him finish. And then we'll...

FLEISCHER: Let me -- let me read -- this is the 9/11 Commission report. And this is what they said about the warnings in the summer of 2001."We cannot say for certain whether those reports, as dramatic as they were, related to the 9/11 attacks. The focus was abroad, and that's where action was taken because that where the intelligence led."

COOPER: But, Ari, there were reports about actors within the United States about people within the...

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

COOPER: Already present in the United States.

FLEISCHER: And those reports had been prevalent since the late 1990s. There are also reports from the late 1990s about people in the United States. I suspect in the government today there were reports about people who are active in the United States.

The issue is, was there actionable intelligence. And this is what's so maddeningly frustrating about intelligence. It was true then and will always be true. Intelligence is always imprecise. Nobody but nobody ever said, and Mr. Eichenwald will acknowledge this, that we have information that there's going to be hijackings of airplanes used to fly into buildings in September of 2011 or any other timeframe.

None of that was the case. We have vague, generalized reporting, just as President Clinton had the same PDB. He has a PDB in 1988 that said, "UBL preparing to hijack aircraft in the United States."

But Mr. Eichenwald only faults George Bush. On the 9/11 Commission, actually faulted President Bush, President Clinton, the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Justice.

COOPER: Right.

FLEISCHER: It was a much more context report that -- Mr. Eichenwald has said in his reporting and they never had the heart of what Mr. Eichenwald says, which was that other PDBs gave credence to the fact that this was an attack that could have been and should have been known and stopped.

COOPER: Kurt, I want you to be able to respond. I mean, just again, in my reading of the 9/11 Commission report today, it did seems to say that numerous actions were taken overseas far less done domestically, and that the system was blinking red. Domestic agencies reported they didn't really know what to do according to the 9/11 Commission report. EICHENWALD: That's true, because there wasn't the same kind -- I want to address a number of things that Ari just said. I mean, number one, I want to point out his first approach was attack the messenger. Number two, I am quoting from presidential daily briefs. Ari is not coming in here and saying oh, I have other information. I don't know what he's saying. Is he saying, I'm just lying and making them up?

Ari, this is what it says. Now you can hold out the 9/11...

FLEISCHER: Kurt, I'm reading from the 9/11 Commission.

EICHENWALD: Ari, I allowed you to speak.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let him finish. Let him finish.

EICHENWALD: Would you give me the same benefit? Now I'm kind of angry at Ari today because the first thing he did was send out a tweet, calling me a 9/11 truther. Meaning one of those people who says that George Bush orchestrated 9/11. And that's the kind of garbage, the kind of empty headed garbage that has prevented history from taking place here.

I quoted from documents that are historical documents. The 9/11 Commission did not quote from those documents. And in fact, the 9/11 Commission fought to have the very PDBs that Ari says they had declassified and the Bush White House would not do it.

Now that's fine. I'm not saying they should have. But I'm saying for him to pretend that they had this information and it was disclosed in the 9/11 report is simply false.

COOPER: Kurt, one of the things you're saying...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But, Kurt, one of the things you're saying in your article, which is not in the 9/11 Commission report, is that you're saying based on -- you say people you talked to is that neoconservatives within the -- in the administration, within the Pentagon basically pooh-poohed some of the threats, particularly domestically, saying it was basically disinformation put out to distract from the real threat, which was Saddam Hussein.

EICHENWALD: Well, actually it's not just me -- you know, quoting people anonymously. There's a June 27 daily brief that I refer to, which is the CIA's response saying we are not being fooled -- I don't know the exact quote, it's in the story, that we are not being fooled by bin Laden. This is a real threat, it is actual and they start laying out all the reasons why.

So you're taking about a circumstance in late June where there's an argument going on as to whether it's real or not. Now...

COOPER: Ari, what about that? Because I'm just being reminded, in the 9/11 Commission report, there is something, I think, about Paul Wolfowitz touched on...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: That's correct, Anderson. That was in the 9/11 Commission report and that was accurately cited. It was one person at the Department of Defense who said that, the CIA rejected it and nobody at the White House accepted that. So it is one person who weighed in on that.

But let me go back to the charges against me. You know I just think this is a cleaned-up version of trutherism. Because the heart of his charge is that George Bush knew 9/11 was coming and he neglected his duties and therefore he allowed it to happen. That's just a cleaned up version of trutherism.

Two, on Mr. Eichenwald, and this is important because when he writes a piece that doesn't go into what the 9/11 Commission reported, that leaves out all the other fair criticisms that helped improved the system about other presidents about other branches of government. What you need to know is he just wrote an op-ed where he wrote the Republican Party must be defeated in a crippling way.

(LAUGHTER)

FLEISCHER: The Republicans are liars, they threaten democracy, they threaten America, and they're severely unhinged. So you really do have a rabid partisan who was able to use the pages of "The New York Times" to further his anti-Bush.

EICHENWALD: Ari...

FLEISCHER: Anti-Republican and he wrote them in the context of why Mitt Romney needs to be defeated.

EICHENWALD: One thing. Tell me one thing...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Kurt, let him finish and then Kurt...

FLEISCHER: That's why -- and that's why he's -- and I think that's why he's come to a conclusion that nobody at the 9/11 Commission came to. They had those PDBs. They had access to all the information. So maybe he's smarter and sharper than everybody, Democrat and Republican that served on that 9/11 Commission. I don't think so.

COOPER: Kurt, go ahead. Is this politics?

EICHENWALD: Absolutely not. And Ari, I'm going to go down two paths. Number one, the 9/11 Commission did not get the PDBs authorized for release, which means they could not refer to them. Now there were also many people on the 9/11 Commission who did not have the classification authority to look at the PDBs.

Number two, you want to make this all about politics. Again, you want to attack the messenger. Give me one fact, one brief I'm citing. I am working at the disadvantage of actually having read them, which you haven't.

FLEISCHER: Kurt, it's your omissions. It's your omissions that's the problem.

EICHENWALD: One fact -- because I don't go into a lengthy...

FLEISCHER: It's your omissions that launched the one part of fact...

EICHENWALD: I don't go into a lengthy description of what Clinton did and what -- it wasn't a partisan attack.

FLEISCHER: Right, you only go into George Bush.

EICHENWALD: Because it was about -- it was about what did the documents I obtained show.

FLEISCHER: Because you're a partisan.

EICHENWALD: Sorry, Ari, if I obtained documents...

FLEISCHER: It's because you neglected all the information in the 9/11 Commission report that -- improved our system by citing what was missing when President Clinton was in office, what was missing...

(CROSSTALK)

EICHENWALD: See, Ari, that is why...

COOPER: But, Kurt -- Kurt, you're saying -- Kurt, you're saying you were focusing basically on the summer before 9/11 to show the sort of the drumbeat that was occurring in those immediate months, is that right?

EICHENWALD: I was not playing a game of -- I mean, it's like a child. It's like saying, well, Billy did this, but Bobby did that. It's not about that. It is about what did the documents I obtained and saw show. I'm not going to run around and say gee, I have a news story. But Ari Fleischer might be afraid or upset that I'm not spinning it enough in order to bring in Clinton.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And, Kurt, to the argument that...

EICHENWALD: Did Clinton make mistakes? Absolutely.

COOPER: Kurt...

EICHENWALD: That has nothing to do with this.

COOPER: ... to the argument that you shouldn't have published on this day, what do you say? EICHENWALD: I say that I have spoken to far more -- more family members, far more victims' families of the 9/11 attacks than Ari has and I will tell you, I have heard from four families today...

FLEISCHER: You don't know that.

EICHENWALD: I have heard from four families today thanking me. The last thing I have ever heard from them is gee, we don't want to know what happened. These people starve for what happened.

FLEISCHER: You didn't tell them what happened. You didn't tell them what happened. You distorted what happened.

EICHENWALD: Ari, again, tell me one fact...

FLEISCHER: You didn't get into what the 9/11 Commission reported.

EICHENWALD: One fact. One fact that isn't right. Ari, you're not answering the question.

FLEISCHER: Exactly what I discussed before. In the summer of 2001 as the 9/11 Commission makes clear the reporting that we had, that George Tenet cited, that the 9/11 Commission cited, was about attacks abroad. That's why the system was blinking red.

EICHENWALD: This is untrue.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: In the summer of 2001. I read you the paragraph. It's exactly from the 9/11 Commission report.

EICHENWALD: And I will read you -- I will -- Anderson. Anderson, read in the May 1...

FLEISCHER: The reporting was focused abroad.

EICHENWALD: Read him the May 1...

FLEISCHER: Now that was -- may or may not have been right.

EICHENWALD: Ari, Ari, Ari, you keep talking over me, but it's a lie.

COOPER: There were reports about actions within the United States and my reading, and again, I just read a couple chapters today before the interview. There's no doubt the 9/11 says there are few specifics regarding time, place, method or target incurred. You don't dispute that?

EICHENWALD: But this is, again, one of the things I want to point out here. One of the most despicable things that was done in this is the CIA produced tons of information, tons of information, typical intelligence. It didn't say, at 8:00 in the morning on 9/11, at the World Trade Center, this is going to happen. Intelligence isn't like that. And anybody who thinks it is doesn't read intelligence.

What you do have is enough information to act on, to go on alert, to do the kinds of things that were done in 1999.

COOPER: You said -- you're saying there should have been a higher level of alert given out domestically, based on the information that was there and that even -- and that would have allowed lower- level people at agencies to connect dots more, based on local intelligence they have?

EICHENWALD: Let me -- let me throw in two stories here, one thing that's referenced in the article and in the book, "500 Days."

On July 9, members of the counterterrorist center met in the basement of the CIA to discuss whether or not they should all put in for a transfer. And the reason they did that is because -- not because they felt like it, not because they were bored, but because they kept coming forward with this information and no action was being taken. Not the action they thought should be taken.

And the suggestion went out, and the lead person in the room said, "We can't get enough people in here. There aren't people qualified to do this. We're the only ones qualified to ride this thing down."

FLEISCHER: And what -- this is my beef here. This is the biased telling of a story.

EICHENWALD: I'm sorry if you don't like what the intelligence agents say.

FLEISCHER: Don't interrupt. Remember that.

EICHENWALD: OK.

FLEISCHER: Late 1990s, people said that they should quit their jobs in intelligence and defense, because we didn't take a shot at Osama bin Laden when we had a shot.

EICHENWALD: Absolutely. That's true.

FLEISCHER: This is common second guessing that does take place. In the instances cited, this was the part -- it came from the Department of Defense, where they said, one person at Defense, don't pay attention to it. That was rejected. You hear this kind of thing all the time at federal agencies: People aren't listening right now.

EICHENWALD: Ari either doesn't know...

FLEISCHER: That has been the case forever. It will always be the case of people having those thoughts in government.

EICHENWALD: Ari either -- Ari either... COOPER: I've got to -- I've got to jump in. I'm going to give you each a last comment.

FLEISCHER: OK.

EICHENWALD: Ari is either willing to throw out information, he has no idea what he's talking about, or he's willing to lie.

I mean, the bottom line here is he wants to say one person said this thing about Iraq and nobody cared. Well, then why did I read a presidential daily brief that -- why did I read a presidential daily brief that had to deal with all of this? Why did I speak to intelligence officials who said this was an enormous problem they have to overcome?

Every single time Ari hears a fact he doesn't like, it's partisan. You want to say Clinton messed up? Clinton messed up, you got it. Clinton messed up in ways you haven't even brought up. Clinton messed up in ways that aren't even public yet, read my book.

But you know, the reality is, I am writing about the documents I obtained. Ari wants me to run off and say I have to talk about Democrats, too. Because my article, just because it's based on documents I obtained, can't be about what happened.

COOPER: OK.

EICHENWALD: I am not a spinmeister. He is, and he's not telling the truth.

COOPER: And Ari, I just want to give you one final thought, and we got to go.

FLEISCHER: And I'm also somebody who read the entire 9/11 Commission report.

EICHENWALD: So am I, Ari.

FLEISCHER: And I saw what they said. And I see how this is distorted in the reporting here. He wants to lead people to the conclusion, just like the truthers, that Bush knew and he didn't stop it. That's the fundamental argument he's making.

EICHENWALD: That's what the intelligence agents say.

FLEISCHER: It's a flawed -- it's a flawed reading of the 9/11 Commission report. And no one else has done it, except the truthers. If there was evidence...

EICHENWALD: Anderson, can I add given that...

FLEISCHER: We read about it in the 9/11 Commission report...

EICHENWALD: Can I add one thing, Anderson?

COOPER: We're way over time. I'm sorry. But you just want to say you're not a truther.

EICHENWALD: Well, no, beyond that. I want to point out, if I can, I never said George Bush orchestrated this and we are here...

FLEISCHER: You said he allowed it to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ari has not cited a single thing in the article that was wrong.

COOPER: OK, we've got to go. We're way over time. But I appreciate both your perspectives, Kurt Eichenwald, Ari Fleischer. Gentlemen, thank you very much, gentlemen. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay with breaking news. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has confirmed that a State Department officer was killed in an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The State Department issued a statement just moments ago.

An eyewitness in Benghazi says the attack began with a radical Islamist group showing up to protest a Web video they call anti- Muslim. It started out peacefully but soon escalated. And as we said, one American is now reported dead. Foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott joins us now.

Elise, what more can you tell us?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Isha, we are waiting for confirmation that the State Department has notified this gentleman's family. It was a foreign service officer.

And basically, in the statement, Secretary of State Clinton said that, you know, a lot of people have justified this behavior, this attack on the embassy as a response to this Internet material. But the U.S., you know, makes clear that it really deplores any effort to denigrate religious beliefs of others.

Isha, they're still trying to secure the embassy, although there aren't necessarily militants at the gate or anything like that. State Department officials tell me they're still very unsettled about what's going on in trying to secure the area.

Right now, the State Department is working with its embassies and its consulates around the world, specifically in the Middle East, to protect American personnel, American facilities. As we saw today, there was a vicious attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo. So a lot of jittery people at the State Department tonight, Isha.

SESAY: Yes. Elise, I know details are only just coming out. I understand there's confirmation. But at this stage, do we have any idea as to where this -- this individual was in the consulate, in the compound? And yow he came to his death? Any details coming out?

LABOTT: We don't. We do know that there were several gunned -- several armed gunmen that had breached the consulate compound. It's -- it's a very small area, and there are not a lot of U.S. personnel.

And originally, the State Department and the embassy had received word from the Libyans that this person was killed, and they didn't have independent confirmation. But now the U.S. obviously, in the death of an American citizen, wants to see that, you know, for lack of a word, see that body themselves. See the person before they have to give that news to the family.

So once they finally got that confirmation, they were able to confirm. But we don't really have details as of yet as to how this gentleman met his death.

SESAY: Elise Labott, I know you're staying on top of the story for us. Appreciate it. Thank you. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Just 56 days until the election, registered voters overwhelmingly say economic conditions are poor, but how does that break down? We want to know. How do the candidates propose to fix it?

All this week, we're showcasing the top five economic concerns that keep everyone up at night. We polled registered voters to identify what the concerns are. Last night we focused on No. 5, which is housing. Tonight, we're looking at No. 4, which is taxes.

Like many Americans who own small businesses, Ed Halabi spends a lot of time thinking, worrying about his tax bills. He owns a restaurant in Jamesville, Wisconsin, the neighborhood where Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan grew up. Here's what he told us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HALABI, RESTAURANT OWNER: I need two five-dollars (ph) and a turkey sandwich in 10 minutes. All right?

What keeps me up at night as a small businessman is over 50 percent of the population isn't paying their fair share of their taxes. And big corporate America are finding loopholes, created by lobbyists. We, the small business people, the middle-class people, we are taking the brunt of this expense to maintain our country.

When I first hear that small businesses is the backbone of America, I always chuckle. And I say to myself, if he only knew the hardships that small businesses endure. So are we the backbone of this nation? Maybe in theory we are. But we pay so much in taxes. Every month, we just have these bills that we have to pay. We can't tell the state or the federal government, or the city, the municipal building, the we're not going to pay for our permits.

My journey to the United States is a journey that I think many people aspired for. It's the country of milk and honey. I came from West Africa, Liberia, so I came to this country, worked for four years in restaurants while I was paying my way through college. If I knew then what I know now, I would probably not go down that path, and just stay in a comfort zone of where you earn your paycheck week to week.

Did you like it, young man?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

HALABI: We have a failed system. I think we, the small business people, we are tired of watching legislators stay there and argue and take naps, and that political gridlock that we have going on, within our government, it's stifling.

The economy in America -- the reason I'm successful in this business is because I put in seven days a week, 16-hour days. So do the math. That's over 110 hours a week that I put in. I don't want my kids to grow up like that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: CNN chief national correspondent John King joins me now. Also Dan Lothian has been traveling with the president. And Jim Acosta with the Romney campaign.

So John, the latest CNN polling, we asked likely voters, which candidate would better handle taxes. What do the numbers say?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: By a 51-46 margin, President Obama, the Democrat, Anderson. You go back to the '80s and the '90s, Republicans normally had the edge on taxes. At the moment, though, this race, the president does, and there are a number of reasons why. I mentioned he has the majority, 51-46. So close, but advantage to the president. Here's one of the reasons why.

You ask voters, among likely voters, those who attended college, you see the president at 52 percent support on the tax issue among those who attended college. Forty-five percent for Governor Romney.

Now, we're going to match that up with those who describe themselves as moderates. Fifty-eight percent of moderate support the president when it comes to taxes. Why do I put those together? Moderate, college-educated people tend to live in the suburbs. In states like Colorado, suburban voters are often the swing voters in elections. So this is an important advantage for the president as part of the economic debate.

Now,, it's not all bad for Governor Romney, though. Let's move over to the state of Florida, show you a little bit more from our most recent poll. If you look at older voters, they tend to be more reliable. These are voters 50 years of age and older. Again, a more reliable voting group. Fifty-four percent support Governor Romney on taxes to 42 percent for President Obama.

So obviously, jobs is the No. 1 part of the economy debate. But on taxes, a subset of that, at the moment, Anderson, an advantage for the president.

COOPER: Jim, Governor Romney has been criticized by Democrats and by some fellow Republicans for not laying out enough specifics in the tax plan, particularly what loopholes he would close in order to be able to cut taxes for the wealthy by 20 percent. How has the campaign been responding to that?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Mitt Romney has suggested on a number of occasions that he would limit some of the mortgage deductions for high-income earners and closing loopholes to pay for some of these tax cuts in his economic plan. But Anderson, he has not specified as to how he would exactly do all of that.

And so you're right: has said these things, and his campaign not really filled in the blanks. I can tell you that over the weekend, Paul Ryan said something interesting. He gave one explanation, and that is that they want to go to the Congress in a Romney administration and present a framework to lawmakers to come up with a plan that adheres to the principles that they lay out when they get to that point and try and implement this tax plan.

Another reason Mitt Romney has talked about himself in published interviews, like in "TIME" magazine, he has said, look, if he comes out there and he says, "These are the deductions I'm going to limit," he feels like he's going to set off a whole cottage industry of attacks coming after him from all these special-interest groups.

And Anderson, when places like the National Tax Policy Center say, "Hey, wait a minute. If you don't come out with more specifics, all we can assume is that either you're going to blow a hole in the deficit where you're going to be raising taxes on middle income Americans."

The Romney campaign says, basically, they don't believe what that group is saying about the tax plan -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Dan, I mean, we know that President Obama wants to raise taxes, he says, on incomes over $250,000 by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for that group. And that's certainly the most publicized and, I guess, criticized aspect of the tax plan. Is that necessarily, though, the main tenet of this tax plan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Anderson. It is the main component of the president's plan. And that's why the president talks so much about it out on the campaign trail, saying that it is good for middle-class Americans, but they'll be able to go out and purchase things with the savings, and that he also emphasizes that wealthy Americans, this is a time for them to pay their fair share. So that is the main component.

But in addition to that, the president also wants to raise capital gains rate to 20 percent. Currently, most Americans pay about 15 percent. He wants to tax dividends as ordinary income.

And the president also wants to cut the corporate tax rate. It's currently at 35 percent, one of the highest in the world. He wants to lower that to 28 percent on this, the president, and Mitt Romney do agree on, but Mitt Romney wants to lower it a little bit more, Anderson. COOPER: It seems, because another aspect of the debate has been what effect that both plans would have on small business owners like the man we just saw in that piece. How is the Obama campaign trying to target small business owners out on the campaign trail?

LOTHIAN: That's such a good question. Because a lot of concern out there from small business owners that they will, under the president's plan, see their taxes go up.

But when you hear the president say that 97 percent of small businesses out there would fall under that $250,000-a-year threshold, so they would not see their taxes go up. In other words, only 3 percent of small businesses out there would see their taxes go up.

The president has been emphasizing that these small businesses are the engine of the economic recovery, and so he says that he wants to do as much as possible to help them get their businesses going. Because if that happens, then the entire economy will turn around.

COOPER: John, Jim, Dan, thanks.

Well, coming up, remembering the victims of 9/11. A look at today's memorials, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, if you watch our show regularly, you know that this time of the night, we usually end on a light note, something to make you laugh going to -- going to sleep with "The RidicuList," but tonight on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we wanted to use this time to remember the victims and their families.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): O, say can you see...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we remember a day that began like so many others. It was a day like this one. A clear blue sky. And a sky that would soon be filled with clouds of smoke and prayers of a nation shaken to its core. This is never an easy day, but it is especially difficult for all of you, the families of nearly 3,000 innocents who lost their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And my grandpa, Raymond Downey, you died doing what you loved doing, saving people's lives. I love you so much and so does Nanny.

OBAMA: No matter how many years pass, no matter how many times we come together on this hallowed ground, know this: that you will never be alone. Your loved ones will never be forgotten.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And my big brother, Luis Jiminez Jr., we miss you and love you.

OBAMA: They will endure in the hearts of our nation, because through their sacrifice, they helped us make the America we are today. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): For the land of the free and the home of the brave.

OBAMA: We can visit the field of honor in Pennsylvania and remember the heroes who made it sacred.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here together is one family. We pause to honor and to pray and to remember 184 lives lost at the Pentagon.

OBAMA: You can see water cascading into the foot prints of the Twin Towers and gaze up at the new tower rising above the New York skyline.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And my sister, Catherine Fairfax MacRae. Cat, Mom, Dad and I will always honor you and carry you with us.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All these people gathered here today have not forgotten the heroism of your husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and that what they did for this country is still etched in the minds of not only you but millions of Americans forever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And my father, William Edward Micciulli. Daddy, I was 9 months old when you passed away, and I will love you forever.

OBAMA: Even though we may never be able to fully lift the burden carried by those left behind, we know that somewhere a son is growing up with his father's eyes, and a daughter has her mother's laugh, living reminders that those who died are with us still.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: That's it for us. Thanks for watching this edition of 360. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.