"60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan apologized Friday for her staff's failure to vet a guest who indicated that the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the US special mission compound in Benghazi, Libya, had resulted from government negligence.
The guest, a Welsh security contractor who has just written a book purporting to give a first-hand account of the attack, was found to have given a conflicting report to the FBI. After 12 days of defending the Oct. 27 segment, CBS removed it from the "60 Minutes" website and apologized, but not before it had reinvigorated a months-long push by Republicans to demand that the White House bring the attack's eyewitnesses to testify before Congress.
"The survivors, the people who survived the attack in Benghazi, have not been made available to the US Congress for oversight purposes," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina told "Fox & Friends" last month. “So I’m going to block every appointment in the United States Senate until the survivors are being made available to Congress.”
The Benghazi attack on two US compounds killed four people including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and critics of the White House have expressed outrage that officials did not immediately acknowledge it as a terrorist attack. Instead, administration officials suggested at the time that it might have begun as a protest to an anti-Islamic video made by an Egyptian Christian man.
"Of course as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy, sparked by this hateful video," said then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, on the CBS program "Face the Nation" shortly after the attack.
The attack occurred shortly before President Obama's reelection, leading some to suspect a government coverup of evidence that Al Qaeda remained a menace.
"Much of the information about Benghazi is classified, I think for political reasons more than anything else," said Senator Graham. CNN has since reported that three Al Qaeda operatives were involved in the attack.
The CBS guest, a security manager introduced by the pseudonym "Sgt. Morgan Jones" for the interview and his book, said he identified Ambassador Stevens’ body in a hospital before heading to the compound, scaling a wall, and dispatching a militant with his rifle, which nobody else could see. Just hours earlier, he said, Stevens had contacted him with concerns about the compound's security.
But the Washington Post reported on a first-person FBI incident report, allegedly filed to a British security firm contracted by the State Department, written by "Project Manager, Dylan Davies," which the paper confirmed was Jones's real name and title. In it, Davies says he identified Stevens' face from a photo texted to his phone, and did not visit the compound under siege. "We could not get anywhere near the mission as roadblocks had been set up by the Sharia brigade," he wrote then.
In her apology, CBS's Ms. Logan said Davies had consistently acknowledged that he gave a false report to his employer, explaining that he had gone to the mission out of concern, despite strict instructions to stay away. But, said Logan, he had also told "60 Minutes" that he was giving them the same report he gave to the FBI, which appears to be untrue.
"We take the vetting of sources and stories very seriously at '60 Minutes', and we took it seriously in this case, but we were misled, and we were wrong," said Logan.
In a Nov. 2 interview with The Daily Beast, Davies said he had neither seen nor written that report. “I am just a little man against some big people here,” he said. “They can do things, make up things, anything they want, I wouldn’t stand a chance.”
It is unclear at this point whether Davies lied in his report or in his book, though Media Matters spotted some inconsistency in the book's account.
But the "60 Minutes" segment did not rely on Davies' account alone. Greg Hicks, the former deputy to Ambassador Stevens, and Lt. Col. Andy Wood, a top US security official based in Tripoli, both told Logan of repeated warnings to the State Department about poor security and the likelihood of an imminent attack, which they say went unheeded.
In the now-retracted segment, Lt. Col. Wood described the attack's careful and expert execution, and Mr. Hicks described learning that no large-scale military help was being sent to defend the mission. CNN reported on an independent review of the attack in December 2012, which cited "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies" at the State Department.
Whether or not "60 Minutes" made a gross oversight in using Davies as a source, it did leave a key detail out of its report: CBS owns Simon & Schuster, the publisher that has just released Davies' book, "The Embassy House." It remains to be seen how the recent revelations will affect the reach of his story, whose movie rights Davies recently sold, and how they will affect the political storm around Benghazi developments.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed Senator Graham's threat as political posturing.
"When it comes to oversight and Benghazi, as you know, the administration has made extraordinary efforts to work with seven different congressional committees investigating what happened before, during and after the Benghazi attacks," he told Foreign Policy magazine. "That includes testifying at 13 congressional hearings, participating in 40 staff briefings, and providing over 25,000 pages of documents."