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Q&A: The 60 Minutes Benghazi investigation
60 Minutes Overtime Staff
Correspondent Lara Logan and 60 Minutes producer Max McClellan spent a year reporting on the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Mission Compound in Benghazi. Lara and Max discuss their investigation in a Q&A with 60 Minutes Overtime below:
When did you first pick up the phone and start reporting?
Lara: I got a tip the night Benghazi happened from a source. I knew that Ambassador Stevens was missing and nobody knew where he was, and this went on all night until I eventually I fell asleep just before 5 a.m., and I missed a call confirming that he was dead. So, it started like that, and we pretty much immediately started making calls.
60 Minutes Overtime
Three interviews were featured in your piece, but how many people did you talk to on background to understand what really happened in Benghazi?
Max: Countless. It's hard to put a number on it...dozens and dozens and dozens. Over a hundred may sound goofy, but it is definitely in that category. We went to London, Chicago, Dallas, Istanbul, Fort Bragg-- all just for informational meetings in pursuit of people who could give one more layer of information. That, in a story like this, is critical because there is no one place you can go to get everything you need. We literally had to go far and wide for months and months.
Lara: We were exhaustive.
What were your concerns in reporting a story that's as politically charged as Benghazi is?
Lara: We had to make sure we weren't used by anyone on the Left or the Right who had a political agenda. That was our biggest concern. Journalism is not about making a case, it's about finding the facts. In this story, you had to work really hard to find the facts and not be seduced by anybody. So, we left about 98 percent of what we learned on the floor-- didn't even report it-- because unless we could substantiate it with primary sources that we truly trusted and whose motivations we trusted, then we didn't even go there.
Max: The challenge was sifting out the political bias that might exist with the information that you're trying to get, finding the little nuggets of truth in the midst of the political spin. For me, that was the big challenge: making this as apolitical as possible, so that our only mission was to try to ascertain the facts, leaving all the other stuff aside.
What kind of obstacles did you encounter along the way?
Lara: An extraordinary amount of pressure on the people involved not to talk. And an extraordinary amount of pressure on anyone in the government--the military side, the political side--not to say anything outside of official channels. I mean, to the point where people that we've known for years would call people who were no longer in their positions, and they would call someone else that we knew, and messages would be delivered like that because there couldn't be any trail linking you directly to our story.
The administration is cracking down so hard on leakers: no one wants to put anything in writing, everybody is scared to talk over the phone, people want to meet in person--all of that makes it that much harder to investigate anything.
Many Americans are confused about the Benghazi story. Does your story help clear up the confusion?
Lara: What we hope we've accomplished, and I think we really have, is bring to life what the events in Benghazi meant to the people on the ground. In all of the official accounts, the personalities have been wiped out of it. There's very little detail.
To us, it was staggering that the U.S. diplomat who was coordinating the response in Libya knew an hour into the attack--which still lasted another six hours-- that there was no help coming. And that had a huge impact for the guys on the ground.
We also wanted Amb. Stevens to be a person who matters in this story and not just the name of a diplomat to be honored and recognized for his service.
And it became evident to us during the course of our research that very little is known publicly about the true nature of al Qaeda's network in Libya. And that has consequences beyond Benghazi and beyond Libya. It has consequences that speak to the national security interests of the United States of America. That is important--it's more important to us than rehashing old ground over who should have done what.
Max: It is a story that is overshadowed by misinformation and partisanship, but what we were able to do was to find people who weren't at all confused about the sequence of events that night, who had direct experiences on the ground that made the story, in their eyes, actually quite simple.
Why did your sources--Andy Wood, Morgan Jones, and Greg Hicks--decide to talk to 60 Minutes on camera about the attack in Benghazi?
Lara: Andy Wood has an extraordinary amount of guilt because he served with Amb. Stevens for a long time and warned him-- warned the Department of Defense, reported it back to Washington repeatedly-- that he saw this attack coming. He wasn't able to do anything about it.
Watch "Andy Wood: 'Shut down operations' in Benghazi"
Morgan Jones, in a similar way, is tortured by guilt that he was not able to save his friends in the U.S. Compound, that he wasn't able to save Sean Smith's life or Amb. Stevens' life. That may sound ridiculous to people who couldn't think of anything more insane than rushing towards a burning building that is overrun with al Qaeda terrorists, but Morgan Jones is the kind of man who would do that and who did do that. And when he failed the first time, he went back again.
Greg Hicks, his motivation is a sense of duty to Amb. Stevens to correct the record. He said he had to break 22 years of tradition in order to talk [to us] because it's ingrained in officials from the State Department not to speak to the public. And he's paid for that, of course, because he certainly doesn't have a sparkling diplomatic future, but that was a price he was willing to pay to set the record straight on Amb. Chris Stevens.
You sent a member of your team to Benghazi to sift through the ruins. What did you learn from that footage?
Max: In every story that you do, you need to have a confidence about the ground truth-- you need to have a sense of perspective from the ground. If you're doing a story about the U.S. Special Mission Compound in Benghazi, you want to at least put eyes on it.
The person who shot this footage has a lot of experience in Libya and through his network of contacts on the ground in Benghazi, he was able to access the compound. It was closed, guarded, but through relatives of people he had gotten to know over the years, he was able to get in and take these pictures for us.
We did not expect that we would find the U.S. compound in the state that we found it. There was still debris and ammunition boxes and a whiteboard that had the day's assignment for the security personnel at the compound as of September 11, 2012.
In the midst of those ruins, our colleague found the official schedule of Amb. Stevens for September 12th--which is the day after he died-- just sitting there. I asked him where that document is now, and he said, "I just took a picture of it and left it there."
So it's still there, still in the ruins, with the empty ammunition boxes and all of the rest of the remnants of the American presence in Benghazi.
Editor's Note: For viewers who wish to help, a memorial fund has been established in the name of Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, who was killed in the attack on the U.S. in Benghazi. Learn more by going to the website for the Glen Doherty Memorial Foundation.