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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Benghazi Security Questions; Flash Point Iran
Aired September 26, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks very much. Good evening, everyone.
We begin tonight with breaking news that you will only see right here on 360. And frankly, some of the details are pretty astonishing. On a day that Secretary of State Clinton says she is still waiting for answers while the FBI investigates the killing of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, our sources reveal that not one single FBI investigators has set foot at the crime scene. Fifteen days after the terror attack, not one.
Those same sources also saying that the crime scene still has not been secured. And those are just two headlines, just two new pieces of information tonight, but that is not all we're learning.
CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend once again has the scoop on all that. She's going to -- she joins now. As we often mention, Fran is the former White House homeland security adviser. She's currently a member of the CIA's External Advisory Committee and was recently in Libya with her employer, MacAndrews & Forbes. Also with us, CNN contributor and former CIA officer Bob Baer.
Also, Eli Lake is the senior national security correspondent for "Newsweek" and for the "Daily Beast."
So you've got reporting now on the status of the FBI investigation. What can you tell us?
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, it's pretty extraordinary and astonishing to me who's worked these investigations internationally with the FBI over more than a decade. So you understand that when you -- when this happens and the FBI opens an investigation one of the first things they do is go to the State Department and, say, please request permission for us to enter this country, Libya, get to the crime scene, Benghazi, please request that we will have the security and the ability to do that, that we will have access to the crime scene, that we will have access to any individuals that the Libyans take into custody.
None of that is -- well, the FBI has made that request to the State Department, what we found out today from senior law enforcement officials is that while the FBI has finally made it to Tripoli, they've never made it Benghazi. They --
COOPER: They haven't been on the ground in Benghazi. TOWNSEND: They have not. In fact it was taking so long to get permission to get into Tripoli the FBI deployed their personnel to a location in the region so they'd be closer. They had conducted interviews of the State Department and U.S. government personnel who were in Libya at the time of the attack. But they've not been able to get -- they've gotten as far as Tripoli now but they've never gotten to Benghazi. They made a request that the crime scene be secured.
As we know from Arwa Damon's reporting and other public reporting -- the State Department -- we don't know whether or not the State Department out that request to the Libyans and whether it was denied or what happened to it. What we know for sure is the crime scene was never secured and in fact, a senior law enforcement official I spoke to said if we get there now it's not clear that it will be of any use to us.
And then the third and really critical and astonishing point to me was -- that they made was, look, one of the things we have to do is question the individuals that the Libyans have in custody to get to the bottom of this.
TOWNSEND: To understand what they're learning and in fact they made that request through the State Department. That was denied by Libya. And in -- so the FBI has to pass any questions they have through the State Department to the Libyan government. They put the questions then you wait for sort of like a child's game of telephone that information to come back before you can follow up. Not at all the ideal way to run an investigation.
COOPER: This is really amazing information that you're hearing from your sources. Now I want to play something for our viewers from last Thursday. Secretary Clinton said this about the investigation. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: And we are at the very early stages of an FBI investigation. The team from the FBI reached Libya earlier this week.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So she said -- reached Libya earlier this week. No mention obviously of being on the ground in Libya. You're saying they haven't been on the ground in Benghazi based on your sources. Is she splitting hairs here?
TOWNSEND: Well, I --
COOPER: Or --
TOWNSEND: Look, in fairness to the secretary, it may be that she wanted to be coy about where in Libya they were. For security concerns. That would be understandable. But the fact is, it's not clear that they've been even inside Libya for very long. They had difficulty and there is -- we understand some bureaucratic infighting between the FBI and Justice Department on the one hand and the State Department on the other. And so it took them longer than they would have liked to get into the country. They've now gotten there but they still are unable to get permission to go to Benghazi.
COOPER: Bob Baer, you've been involved in a number of aftermath investigations. Have you ever heard of anything like this whether it is bureaucratic infighting where the FBI is not allowed access to a crime scene or -- I guess not approval from the home country? I mean have you heard of anything like this?
ROBERT BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I have never heard of it, Anderson. This is -- this is just outrageous. I mean in a sense that Libya is obviously on the edge. But I've always seen the FBI after an attack like this right on the scene, it was either secured by State Department security officers or U.S. military, the FBI got right in, checked what was missing, checked the weapons, everything else, that was used in the attack.
Again I've never seen this since the takeover of our embassy in Tehran in 1979. It tells me again that Libya is a precarious situation. The State Department realizes that the FBI cannot fight its way into a crime scene. The FBI has got to be secured when it arrives on ground. And there's obviously none. The Libyan are not cooperating. If they're not letting an FBI talk to the people they've arrested, and frankly I think those people are probably, you know, the types that -- the usual suspects.
They have nothing to do with the attack. But that's just my opinion. This is an investigation that cannot possibly at this point turn up very much useful.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, for Libyans not allowing any access directly to the suspects, I mean, what does that say to you? It doesn't portend well at all.
BAER: And not at all. I mean it's -- Anderson, it's the Libyans, they can't decide which side they're on. I mean this is an attack on U.S. soil. It was an act of aggression. And if they can't tell us who did it and why, and where these people are and in fact be arrested, the Libyan government is on the wrong side.
COOPER: And Mr. Lake, you broke the story today in the "Daily Beast" that administration officials knew almost immediately that this was a terror attack. You say they new within 24 hours.
ELI LAKE, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, NEWSWEEK/DAILY BEAST: It was largely the intelligence community that collected a lot of information that clearly not only pointed to al Qaeda but they were able to pin point the location of one of the attackers in part because this person use social media. But there are a number of clues, if you will, that were outside of the intelligence community. Ayman Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda right now, congratulated the attackers in Benghazi for getting vengeance against one of the key jihadists who he asked them to get vengeance on. The date of the attack is another kind of thing. And in addition to that there was intelligence coming in and four of the attackers were identified within 24 hours.
COOPER: And Eli, intelligence sources you've been talking to say they located one attacker using social media, as you mentioned. So did they know his exact location?
LAKE: Yes, but I'm -- I deliberately withheld some details on that.
LAKE: Because the person as I understand is still at large.
COOPER: OK. Fair enough. Do we know if anyone has actually targeted or been targeted or arrested, can you say?
LAKE: At this point I have mixed signals. There's a difference. There were 50 people or so arrested by Libyan authorities. It's unclear whether those people were innocent or guilty or kind of rounding up the usual suspects. But in terms of any kind of U.S. actions, nothing has been done at this point.
COOPER: And you talked to a number of sources, yes, on this?
LAKE: Yes. In fact I'd say, you know, as the story was coming out in the -- you know, in the aftermath of the attacks people actually approached me and began kind of telling me what I would call the unauthorized version of events.
COOPER: So, Fran, you also talked to a senior law enforcement source who has corroborated Eli Lake's reporting about the intelligence community knowing in a 24-hour period, a very short order, that this was --
TOWNSEND: That's right. The law enforcement source who said to me, from day one we had known clearly that this was a terrorist attack. And said it to me in a way, Anderson, to suggest we're mystified by why the sort of seniors in the administration have not been cleared about that. You know, the other thing is when you look at why hasn't this crime scene been secured, after all we know that the militias and Libyan government are in Benghazi. They were perfectly capable of doing it, and so again, it underscores why has this investigation been handles -- mishandled and so differently from every other group --
COOPER: So let me just think about. Let me play devil's advocate here to give the administration the benefit of the doubt. Just as a point of argument. If -- people in the intelligence community knew or felt within 24 hours it was a terror attack, is it possible administration officials did not want to publicly say that for some security reasons, some investigative reasons, or they just wanted to make sure that, you know, in the fog of battle, often intelligence is wrong in the first -- in the first few hours?
TOWNSEND: And that -- and that may -- I think the last explanation, Anderson, that you offer is the most likely. Look, this is an administration that had been burned by putting early information out there, where had then investigators and intelligence sort of stepped back from it. And they looked foolish.
And so it may be that they didn't want to say that. The part that -- the problem even with that explanation, though is, when Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, comes out and says it's a terrorist attack, the administration is very slow, including up to yesterday where the president's address to the U.N. General Assembly, very slow to -- to embrace this notion that it is in fact a terror attack despite the fact -- I mean you can't keep pointing to this film and this protest when this -- when they show up with RPGs and mortars.
COOPER: That is the thing, Eli, though, because it -- I mean arguing against what my devil's advocate question was, they were publicly giving a narrative. They were publicly linking this to that video as opposed to just saying we are investigating.
LAKE: I think there are two different things going on right now. One is what happened in Cairo and that clearly stemmed in part from a broadcaster who had jihadist sympathies talking about this Internet video that was out in June.
The second is what happened in Libya. And that has nothing to do as I can tell at this point from the outrage over the video that started from a broadcaster in Cairo. And I think that those two narratives kind of merged at least in the telling of senior White House officials and other administration officials.
COOPER: Bob, what do you make -- I mean to you, what is the significance of all of this? And I should point out, as Secretary Clinton made the strongest statement yet today from the administration making a link between the Benghazi attack to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But you've been saying this really since shortly after the attack.
What do you think is the significance of this information we're hearing tonight?
BAER: I think it's political. I think the White House is reluctant to admit that Libya has been lost or potentially lost. No administration wants to admit that. And I think frankly we can't blame losing Libya on this administration. You know, it was in the works for a long time. There wasn't much it could do. But nonetheless we have an election coming up and no one wants to take blame for messing up the Arab Spring. Not that they have but this is the politics in Washington. Even when you get a smoking gun, a White House wants to cover it up or explain it away.
COOPER: Bob, is it too early to say, though, that Libya has been lost?
BAER: I -- you know, you look at the -- just the academic stuff about eastern Libya. And you know, there's -- I've heard today there are multiple assassinations around Benghazi, different parts of Libya, where people are settling scores of all sorts of stripes. It's chaotic.
And going back to the FBI getting into Benghazi, you can't really blame them because there is nobody in control of a very large city and a very part -- big part of Libya. So they are -- you know, that's the problem. At the root of it. All the facts point to that is that nobody is in control.
COOPER: Fran, you know, a lot of people about the Arab Spring will say, well look, you have -- you have societies who have been repressed for generations. Been in a pressure cooker. The box has been opened, a lot of weird things come out of the box. But maybe long term there is -- you know, things will move in the right direction as the U.S. sees it. Do you buy that or how do you see it?
TOWNSEND: Well, look, the Arab Spring is in fact I think a long- term gain. But what you have to understand from -- look, if it's terrorism that we're seeing and I feel confident based on everything we know that it is, it races the question for the administration, why didn't you see this coming? If there was intelligence about the growing presence of al Qaeda in eastern Libya. If there was an increasing threat and presence of al Qaeda --
COOPER: On the anniversary of 9/11 of all days.
TOWNSEND: Right. So why didn't you do more? And I think we have to be -- we can't underestimate until you have that answer you're going to be reluctant to call it a terrorist attack. I do think that there's real problems with how this was handled on the front end before it happened and I think that's part of what's driving the handling of it.
COOPER: Well, amazing report, Fran. Appreciate it. Eli Lake, as well. Thank you. And Bob Baer, as well. Thanks for being with us.
Much more on this after the break. We're going to get reaction to our exclusive reporting from two key lawmakers. Let us know what you think. Obviously we're Facebook. You can follow me on Twitter, @Andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting tonight.
Later, this is just remarkable. How one man survived when an avalanche, a mountain of snow came roaring down on top of him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having some gusty winds throughout the night so that was kind of keeping you up also, and then sure enough a gust of wind came that was beyond what we had felt. I told my partner Greg that was in the tent with me, gosh, this is a really strong gust. Greg said this isn't a gust, it's an avalanche.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Welcome back. If you're just joining us, our breaking news tonight only here on 360 sources telling us that not one single FBI agent has made it to Benghazi, to the scene where four Americans were killed on 9/11. Also those same sources telling our Fran Townsend that FBI request through the State Department to get to Libyans, to secure the scenes, have gone unfulfilled.
Additionally, according to sources, suspects from the Libyans having custody have not been made available for direct FBI questioning. And from the get-go, our sources say, this looks like a terror attack.
Back with us national security contributor, Fran Townsend, who broke this remarkable story just moments ago. Also on the phone, Georgia Republican Senator Johnny Isakson and Congressman Michael Turner, Republican from Ohio.
So, Senator Isakson, first of all, your reaction to this information.
SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: Well, this entire thing mystifies me. We have an administration apparently without a policy or looking the other way. Referring to the tragic death of an ambassador as a bump on the road. I do not understand the continuance of the president to look the other way and not admit the fact that this was obviously a terrorist attack. And I cannot believe that the FBI is not on the ground yet and there's not enough cooperation to get them there.
COOPER: Congressman Turner, if the FBI investigators have yet to set foot in Benghazi, how is their investigation is supposed to be credible?
REP. MIKE TURNER (R), OHIO: No, obviously it can't be. And this goes right to the failure of this administration's policies in Libya. You know, we have to put this in context. Just a year ago the president spent nearly $1 billion U.S. with warships right off the coast of Libya attacking the Moammar Gadhafi regime for the purposes of transitioning Libya without a stated policy or defined policy of who we were supporting, what we hope to gain, the geopolitical view of those who might come to power.
And now the president continues to operate in an area where he has no articulated policy and now four Americans are dead. Our ambassador is dead. And the president still has yet to be able to describe what has occurred and really what is the president's policy? Why is it that the president is operating a year after having attacked Libya without a policy?
COOPER: Well, Congressman, I mean to be fair, though, in support of the president and the policy, we'll point out, time was of the essence given Moammar Gadhafi's stated intention to basically invade Benghazi and go house to house and pull people out and kill them, I think, like rats or to -- words to those effect.
But, Senator, you and Senator Jim DeMint have written to Secretary Clinton requesting any diplomatic cables that might have come from Ambassador Chris Stevens. What motivated you to make such a request? What are you hoping to learn, Senator, from those cables?
ISAKSON: Well, first of all, it was myself and Senator Corker --
COOPER: Sorry. Senator -- the question was to you since you requested the cables.
ISAKSON: Right. And, well, first of all, CNN uncovered the diary of Craig (sic) Stevens at the scene. CNN reported that the diaries said, that Craig Stevens wrote, that he thought he was in danger and was out on the al Qaeda's hit list. I can't believe a U.S. ambassador who would write it down in a diary would not have sent cables to inform the State Department of his danger. And I think that is probably what happened.
I think the State Department should be forthright. We should know what communications they had leading up to September 11th. And if in fact the United States State Department and this country knew in advance to the attack that its ambassador felt like he was in danger of his death or imminent the demise from al Qaeda and we didn't take any action to secure him, that sends appalling message to ambassadors around the world representing the United States of America.
COOPER: And, Senator, if you don't get these cables, I mean is there anything really you can do? You requested them, can the committee subpoena the items?
ISAKSON: Well, the committee can move forward and we've talked with members of the committee and some of the leadership of the committee. In fact, if the administration claims executive privilege or looks the other way and denies it, Senator Corker and I will continue to pursue it because we think the American people, the Congress of the United States and certain the family of Craig Stevens deserve an answer and they deserve it now.
COOPER: Congressman, you've been in briefings about this, does it -- what do you make of the kind of the narrative that we've heard from administration officials about, well, it was linked to this video and it's still being investigated, we're not sure, and now this reporting tonight and today that -- at least within the intelligence community in the first 24 hours, they felt confident this was a terror attack?
TURNER: Well, and, Anderson, I don't think we can give administration the benefit of the doubt. I think the fact that they are trying to blame it on not a terrorist attack comes right to the heart of the fact that this is a president that took NATO and the United States into an offensive action into Libya without a clear stated policy, spent nearly a billion dollars, continues to have -- not a clear stated policy of what our relationship is. To those who are in charge, the geopolitical, you know, evolution that's occurring there.
And at the same time is not providing clearly the type of securing that's necessary in the environment that we're in. You know I don't think there's anybody who -- in Congress or the Senate -- can articulate what this president's policy is post-Gadhafi in Libya. He certainly didn't articulate it when he began the military action against them and he certainly isn't now, leaving I think Americans at risk.
COOPER: Congressman Turner, I appreciate your time. Senator Isakson, as well.
Fran, it is -- you know, to be fair to the administration and those are obviously two Republican members of Congress, I mean it's not clear how much the U.S. was in control of events. I mean there were -- events happen around the world. And events were happening on the ground in Libya, in the streets of Egypt, without the U.S. being in the forefront of it.
And in many cases the U.S. was reacting as often happens in foreign policy. I mean the Arab Spring is not something the U.S. necessarily has control of.
TOWNSEND: No, that's exactly right, Anderson. And we do have to understand that. That said, our experience tells us, whether it's the East African embassy or the USS Cole, right, in places around the world which are either ungoverned -- the Mali-Mauritania border -- or poorly governed -- Yemen, Libya -- because of a weak central government, nature pours a vacuum, we know al Qaeda has the wherewithal to take advantage of that.
We know al Qaeda looks for those safe havens around the world. And it seems, it appears now, that's exactly what al Qaeda was doing with Libya, trying to insert themselves where it was a weaker or ungoverned space and take advantage of it to our great detriment in the tragic.
COOPER: Fran Townsend, again, I appreciate your reporting with your sources. Thank you very much.
Other news tonight, in what was likely his last speech at the U.N. General Assembly, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for a new world order not dominated by Western powers. As he was speaking, former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, was blasting President Obama for not taking stronger action against Iran. Former Rudy Giuliani joins me ahead.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again called for a new world order today at the U.N. General Assembly one not dominated by Western powers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (Through Translator): The current abysmal situation of the world and the abysmal incidence of history are due mainly to the wronged management of the world and itself proclaims centers of power. Who have entrusted themselves to the devil. The order that is rooted in the anti-human thoughts of slavery and the old and new colonialism are responsible for poverty, corruption, ignorance and oppression and discrimination in every corner of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Ahmadinejad's remarks came a day after President Obama said he would do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from getting nuclear arms. Today at an anti-Iranian protest near the U.N. former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said President Obama has betrayed the people of Iran by not doing more to support their freedom.
Strong words. I spoke with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani moments ago.
COOPER: You've been very critical of the U.S. policy toward Iran, saying the Obama administration has a cavalier attitude. How do they have a cavalier attitude?
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Well, I mean, the idea that you are going to stop them from becoming nuclear by just saying things like all options are on the table or --
COOPER: But isn't that what Mitt Romney has said, all options are on the table?
GIULIANI: Well, I mean Mitt Romney is not the president. The president of the United States should be communicating with the -- what the president of the United States should be communicating is that he will take military action --
COOPER: But no president ever says we're going to bomb you. George W. Bush said all options are on the table.
GIULIANI: That was Ronald Reagan. He was pretty successful. I mean Ronald Reagan made it pretty clear when he was going to take military action, he pointed missiles at the Soviet Union and made it clear that he would take military action. COOPER: So was Bush wrong when he didn't say we're going to bomb you but when he said all options are on the table? I mean Reagan said all options are on the table plenty of time.
GIULIANI: First of all, this was a long time ago when Bush was dealing with Iran. Iran was five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years away from becoming nuclear. Iran now could be months away, could be a year away, could be two years away.
Under President Obama Iran has by three times increased the uranium and made it much more enriched than it was originally. That's such a massive change in a very short period of time. And of course Obama hasn't had that history of, you know, begging to negotiate -- wrote a letter to the ayatollah six months ago wanting to talk to him.
COOPER: But what would Mitt Romney do differently?
COOPER: Because Romney, when he was talking to George Stephanopoulos said he had the same red line as President Obama?
GIULIANI: Well, we don't know -- we don't know what President Obama's red line is since he won't share it with us? He won't share it with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He doesn't want to have a red line. He wants to keep it as fuzzy as possible. Now if he wants to do that, and communicate that private to Netanyahu, if he wants to communicate that privately to the ayatollah, I'm OK with that.
But the reality is that he wants to keep it very fuzzy and my fear is Iran will pass the point of no return without knowing it passes the point of no return.
COOPER: We don't know what the president has said privately to an Israeli leader, but also he has said publicly acquiring a weapon is the red line.
GIULIANI: Anderson, we know he hasn't told Netanyahu that unless that not you're the big liar. I mean, Netanyahu's begging to meet with him about the red line. Netanyahu was criticizing him for not setting the red line. He is leaving Netanyahu in the dark, which is a terrible mistake.
COOPER: But just yesterday at the U.N., he said we do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Now, some are saying, we should stop them from having the capability and there's a difference. But Mitt Romney when asked by Stephanopoulos used the same term about acquiring a weapon.
GIULIANI: The reality is that is very, very fuzzy language, a very fuzzy language can lead to war. Very fuzzy language and confusion lead to the First World War. There is no point about being fuzzy about it now.
COOPER: Iran has the capability of a weapon then --
GIULIANI: I'm worried about that because I think we are not concentrating on the real key problem here. I don't think the key problem is Iran using missiles. I think their key problem is having nuclear material that they can hand off to the terrorists that they are presently --
COOPER: But we don't have a good track record, look at Iraq, of figuring out what capabilities people have. Isn't actually having a weapon really the kind of only thing we can actually positively say?
GIULIANI: I'm not sure that is right and I don't know that we don't have a pretty good capability -- an awful a lot of the Iranian scientists have been killed in Iran. Somebody had pretty good information about who they were and where they were living.
COOPER: But you just said, I mean, you're saying that we've been fuzzy and weak in our diplomacy. But in fact, beside sanctions, I mean, there has been an assassination campaign against Iranian scientists and online virus --
GIULIANI: The assassination campaign was from Assad not us. And so let's be clear about that.
COOPER: But we don't know for sure who it was and we don't know what involvement or approval --
GIULIANI: It wasn't us. I mean, the reality is that this whole approach to Iran has been a very, very conciliatory one. Even the sanctions, which are stronger than they used to be, there are 20 exemptions from the sanctions.
COOPER: Do you see a big difference between what Mitt Romney would do?
GIULIANI: I see a very big difference. I think Mitt Romney would deliver a very clear message. First of all, he would meet with -- how about a big difference like this.
He would meet with Netanyahu and sit down face to face with the man and discuss with him what the options are. This is highly irresponsible. Netanyahu has to make a very critical decision.
He has to decide whether for the sake of his nation he should attack Iran. He is entitled with a face to face, eye to eye discussion with the president about this so they can get it straight.
The president has a problem with this. Bob Woodward's book is all about how President Obama doesn't seem to know how to deal with people or act with people or meet with them.
This is a critical moment when the president of the United States has to put aside whatever personal feelings he has about Netanyahu, sit down with the man for an hour or two and they've got to discuss it. More important they discuss as you and I discuss it.
COOPER: We have to leave it there. Mayor Giuliani, appreciate your time.
GIULIANI: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Coming up, the avalanche that killed at least eight people in Nepal. Now a survivor speaks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm like -- no, this isn't going to hit us. This is going to go by. We picked a good spot. We are in a safe zone and the next thing you know we felt a slap almost.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: A survivor takes us inside the avalanche that killed at least eight people in Nepal speaks out. Experienced skier, Glen Plake describes what happened on that mountain and how he made it out alive.
COOPER: Tonight, a survivor of the avalanche in Nepal that killed at least eight people speaks out. His name is Glen Plake, one of the most famous accomplished and wildest extreme skiers in the world.
Throughout his career there have been many extreme moments. That is some of him doing what he does best, but nothing could have prepared him for what happened on Sunday, when he was camped out on the world's eighth highest peak and other climbers and the avalanche hit.
Three of those climbers are still missing, feared dead and Plake knows he is lucky to be alive.
COOPER: Glen, first of all, how are you doing?
GLEN PLAKE, SURVIVED AVALANCHE: I hate to say it, but I'm doing very, very well. I have a great climb manager that didn't let me get on to a rescue helicopter and fly to some hospital or something.
And said if you are in good shape why don't you walk down to base camp and taper off this mountain on your own terms and it really helped me psychologically. Physically, I'm beat up, been in a car wreck if you know what I mean.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, an avalanche, can you walk me through what happened the day of the avalanche? You were in your tent when it happened, right?
PLAKE: We had bedded down at camp three and was actually -- was preparing for a rest day the next day we would have just stayed at camp three. There had been some avalanche awareness in the area. So believe it or not we did in fact sleep with our avalanche beacons on.
I literally had my head lamp on, reading my daily devotions at 4:30 in the morning. We've been having some gusty winds throughout the night so that was kind of keeping you up also.
And then sure enough a gust of wind came that was beyond what we had felt. I told my partner, Greg, that was in the tent with me. Gosh, it was a strong gust. Greg said this isn't a gust, it's an avalanche and about a second later, we were off to parts unknown.
COOPER: So what is that moment like? I mean, one moment you are conscious and you are seeing things and then to get hit by an avalanche, what is it like?
PLAKE: It just -- unfortunately, I've been in one before and I felt it. The wind was coming. It was coming, and you know the avalanche, the winds in front of an avalanche could be up over 200 miles-an-hour.
I'm like -- no, this isn't going to hit us. This is going to go by we picked a good spot. We were in a safe zone. And the next thing you know, we felt a slap almost. I was airborne for quite a while I did go through some big ice clips.
And then I started feeling the actual rumble tumble of an avalanche like you had been knocked over by a wave, you know, in the ocean before. And I was thinking to myself, my gosh, this is it.
This is it. I said this is it. And then, I don't know a couple of seconds who knows what later. All of a sudden, I felt it come to a stop and I immediately, basically, just completely started freaking out and trying to -- you only have a few seconds before the snow starts getting hard like cement.
COOPER: So you are actually conscious when it hits and you are actually tumbling over and over, and you remain conscious.
PLAKE: Yes, I was conscious throughout the whole thing. What's interesting is the sun was not up yet. When I came to a stop I started thrashing about to try to make an air pocket or something and I realized I'm on top of something, but I'm still in the tent.
I can't rip the tent open and I realized, wait a minute. I'll unzip the door. What was really surreal is that I had been reading before and my head lamp was still on my head and was still producing light.
So even though it was very dark, everything was really like and would took me a few minutes to actually comprehend what was happening and then I realized my head lamp is on.
Anyway, as soon as I got myself out, I immediately started screaming and yelling and went into rescue mode for my friends. Unfortunately, Remi -- no sign of Remi whatsoever, he has literally disappeared. There was nothing that was anywhere near or associated with his tent visually, and Greg even though he was sleeping right next to me, everything that we had in thank tent I found except his sleeping bag.
COOPER: So they are both still missing?
PLAKE: And they are both missing and for sure they are -- I came to rest at about 6,300 meters or so. More than 20,000 feet so your time is very limited there. Again, it was our first day at that altitude with a rest day planned I myself was basically just standing in my skivvies with no shoes on.
And the process of thrashing about I had thrown Greg's backpack and his sleeping bag were the same color as I threw it I realized there was a radio in that and I was able to contact our climb manager and say I have been hit by an avalanche.
Greg and Remi are missing. I can't talk I have a rescue to attend to and called them back 5 minutes later. I still can't talk to you. I appear to be OK and I'm still in rescue mode.
This went on for about 20 minutes or so before I realized I'm not in rescue mode anymore. I'm in my own survival mode and I realized I better start putting some clothes on and getting some shoes on because things were starting to get pretty cold.
COOPER: How do you -- I mean, it is so recent I don't know if you have had time to even process it. How do you go on from something like this? Your two friends are missing. Will you climb again? Where is your head right now?
PLAKE: Again, personally I was advised by an old veteran not to jump on a rescue helicopter, took his advice and I can honestly say, in the seven hours that it did take me to walk back to base camp. I was able to taper of the situation.
And I wasn't plucked out of an emergency situation and sitting in a hospital somewhere. We had some dirty work to do. I had to call Remi's wife. I had to call Greg's father and I also had you know there are nine other people involved in this thing too.
So the scene around base camp was kind of interesting. But I kind of stayed there and as far as my head is concerned, I was able to leave the mountain -- I guess, well on my own terms.
COOPER: I don't want to ask you anything personal, I mean, how do you make those calls to your friend's loved ones?
PLAKE: It is a pretty intense roller coaster for sure. Right now I'm still not completely stable, but I'm there. They are hard. Of course, they are hard. Gosh. And then the thing about this whole thing is Remi and Greg are missing.
COOPER: What do you want people to know about them?
PLAKE: Remi's greatest flaw was he was too enthusiastic, isn't that great to have? He was always like come on let's do this. Come on let's go isn't this great?
We had been trekking and we got to put our skis on the first day, to slide a little bit. Like the first day after Christmas and you got a new pair of skis. I was like mellow out man.
And Greg, I never really knew Greg. This was the first expedition together. Again, he was a great guy to travel with. You go on expedition with somebody you don't know and you share a tent with somebody for a month and he really enjoyed where he was and the culture.
He was in the cook tent hanging up making jokes in his spare time. He really enjoyed, the summit is the summit. You go on a six- month trip and you make one ski run. And that is not actually what it is all about.
And Greg really enjoyed every minute and every moment of the trip other than the summit. You know, it was great. Cruised around cat man due and he really enjoyed the local setting and the travel aspect of adventures.
That is what these things are. They are adventures whether it is sailing trip or a climbing trip or something.
COOPER: A young journalist I knew in Somalia was killed and wrote in his journal wrote the journey is the destination. I think that is a lot of what you are saying.
PLAKE: Absolutely. I could say it is an adventure and he really enjoyed that. He was a wonderful person to travel with and a wonderful skier. He was a French ski instructor. He had great stories of pretty highfalutin people.
It was very nice getting to know him. And it breaks my heart I thought for sure he was going to be right there. I'm not a cynical laugh, but going, my gosh, we're alive, dude.
COOPER: Glen, I'm sorry for what you have been through and I'm sorry for your friends who are missing and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families right now. I appreciate you talking to us, Glen.
PLAKE: I appreciate you caring. This is not an ordinary event. This is catastrophic this thing. You know, 30-year Himalayan veterans going I can't believe what I'm looking at. This is a disaster is what it is. This isn't an avalanche.
COOPER: Glen, thank you again. Stay strong.
PLAKE: Thank you guys, God bless, he did me today.
COOPER: Certainly did. Remarkable story. Coming up, the video went viral, students being pepper sprayed. You probably seen the video. Some sued. Today, they found out just how much money they could collect. Details next.
COOPER: Let's get the latest and some of the other stories we're following tonight. Isha's here with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, an opposition group says 343 people were killed in Syria today, the deadliest day since the conflict began. Four were killed and 14 wounded in an attack on the military facility in Damascus. The Free Syrian Army and opposition force is claiming responsibility.
In Greece, thousands marched in Athens to protest new austerity measures. It's the first general strike since Greece's new coalition government was formed in June.
A preliminary settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit filed after this video went viral on YouTube last year. The University of California is offering $30,000 for each of the 21 plaintiffs who were pepper sprayed as an occupy encampment on its Davis campus.
Acting on a new tip, police plan to take soil samples at a home in Roseville, Michigan to see if Jimmy Hoffa is buried there. The team vanished in 1975, one of the biggest mysteries of the 20th Century.
Anderson, sad news tonight, the legendary singer, Andy Williams has died. "Moon River" was one of his signature songs. Williams was known for his mellow crooning and he helped define easy listening in the '60s. He was 84, one of my favorite songs there and it is just very sad news.
COOPER: Yes, a remarkable career he had.
COOPER: Isha, thanks. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." Tonight, there is a whole new way to go totally overboard with your kid's birthday party. Because let's face it, the usual birthday party fare it's pretty played out.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have had the Chuck E. Cheese party. You have had the clown party. You've had the jump -- bounce house party?
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COOPER: Now, hang on, I'm familiar with clowns. I've heard of Chuck E. Cheese, of course, that's the Vegas for kids, right? But what on earth is a jumperoo or bouncy house party and more importantly how can I go about getting invited to one? Who wants to go to a pool party? Yawn.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, when you say, you're going to have a party. That's nice we're going to have a pool party. We're going to have a pool party with a gator. Everybody comes.
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COOPER: Wait. That guy doesn't really take alligators to people's pool parties, does he? That can't actually be happening. That can't actually be good for gators. We need to get to the bottom of this.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you put him on the guest list, he is guaranteed to show up. This gator makes house calls.
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COOPER: I stand corrected. The guy takes alligators to pool parties. And when you think about it, what better way is there to spice up a pool party than throwing a live gator in with the kids. Happy birthday, Suzy, go play with the carnivorous reptile.
Why stop at alligators, throw some rabbit squirrels in there too and pissed off snapping turtles, maybe a great white shark with the mood disorder. They can all play Marco Polo with the youngsters.
It will be fine. It will be fine. Don't worry and it's good for the gators. I'm sure the aquarium is good. Of course, the most important part of throwing an alligator pool party is being the first one on your block to throw an alligator pool party.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Both of my daughters have had their parties this way and been the first one of their friends to do it.
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COOPER: Look, I get it. I have something different. I guess, it's kind of cool. The kids can learn about alligators up close while secretly hoping to tape off the gators or maybe they are hoping that does happen.
But whatever happens to good old days, you blew up a few balloons. You got a cake and maybe you played pin a tail in the donkey. I don't know. Do kids actually use maybe real donkeys now? I don't know.
Look, at the end of the day, I want kids to have fun, but is this really a good idea, is it even healthy for the animals? I'd say hire a clown. If you really want something new, throw the clown in the pool and watch the kids laugh and laugh and laugh. That does it for us. We'll see you again one hour from now, another edition of "360" at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.