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CBS "Face the Nation" - Transcript - Benghazi and Israeli Attack on Syria


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Bob Schieffer: We're back now for some reaction to these developments we've been talking about with two key members of Congress who are just back from the middle east. So we want to talk about Syria as well. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and the top Democrat on the Committee Dutch Ruppersberger. Gentlemen, I just first have to ask you, Congressman, what's your reaction to this what we're hearing here?

Mike Rogers: On the Benghazi investigation?

Bob Schieffer: Yes.

Mike Rogers: Well, each committee has taken up the charge within their lane. So our committee is doing the intelligence piece of this and we issued an interim report, meaning the investigation's not over, and we're finding that there are more individuals who are willing to come forward as the investigation unfolds. So there are some areas, obviously, that are concerning. I will tell that you it's very clear to me that there was some catastrophic decisions made by folks in the State Department that contributed to the death-- meaning they didn't take the appropriate security.

Bob Schieffer: Well is that what it seems to you has happened here? They tried to change this story so they could avoid criticism that they had disregarded requests for more security out there?

Mike Rogers: Well, the investigation is still ongoing. I can tell you just from the interim place, somebody made some very bad decisions on the security posture in Libya. It was deteriorating. The intelligence community did provide accurate information that the situation was deteriorating. It looked bad. It certainly didn't seem at this point in the investigation that the State Department even acknowledged that -- and went a different direction, that I think contributed to this.

Bob Schieffer: Congressman, you're the Ranking Democrat on Intelligence, what's your take?

Dutch Ruppersberger: Well, first thing, it was a very serious situation when we lose American lives. We're in the investigative stage right now. it's extremely important. I think we have to wait until the facts come through. I applaud the fact that there's an open hearing. You want to hear from both sides. What the important issue is, is that we look at why it happened, how it happened, and to make sure it doesn't happen again so we can protect our men and women who are in other parts of the world and who are in danger even now. The most important issue, though, too, and I think the preliminary report Mike was talking about, from an intelligence perspective -- which Mike and I oversee the intelligence community -- there was not an intelligence failure, that we didn't have information ahead of time as it related to this incident.

Bob Schieffer: In order words, what you're saying is we knew the security situation was pretty serious out there, and did the State Department, from what you can tell now, just ignore those calls for more help?

Dutch Ruppersberger: No I'm not saying that at all, that we knew. I'm saying we've got to get the facts. We have a large part of the world where -- we have people throughout the world who are attempting to work with other countries to protect American interests and that's very relevant and important. This was a very volatile area. Things changed as we went through. Just in the beginning, we were talking, there was an issue -- remember were the talking point changed? Did we change the situation? It was an attack. It was a volatile situation. A lot of same information that we receive is the - initially -- had to change and the information and talking points that went to Ambassador Rice, she used talking points that we all got in the very beginning, the first couple of days. I believe General Petraeus --

Bob Schieffer: But it appears those talking points were dead wrong.

Dutch Ruppersberger: At the time, as it turns out, it is and that's what an investigation is about. Let's get the facts. This should not be a partisan issue at all, this should be to get the facts, an open issue, and to hear from everybody. And when you hear allegations that people are told not to talk, I would hope those issues would come out and if that's the case we should be held accountable.

Bob Schieffer: You're just back from the Middle East. New reports this morning: overnight, the Israelis bombed again in Syria. How is the situation there, Mr. Chairman?

Mike Rogers: I think it's deteriorating by the day. So you have Hezbollah is now moving troops, Hezbollah troops financed by Iran, across Syria. They're engaged in the fight to protect the Assad regime. You have the al-Nusra front which is an Al Qaeda front organization, in the thousands, showing up and they're arguing now if this continues you could have in excess of 10,000 foreign fighters pouring into the country across the course of the year. You have Hamas elements there. Everybody wants to get their hands on chemical and more sophisticated conventional weapons. Refugees destabilizing the entire region. This is as bad a situation I have seen in a long time that has -

Bob Schieffer: Have they escalated this? Did the Israelis do what they should have done? What do you think?

Dutch Ruppersberger: Well first thing, I can't discuss anything about the Israeli strikes, but I will say this: Israel has the right to defend themselves at all times and they're in a very volatile area. I agree with Mike Rogers, it is a serious situation, a serious situation in Syria. They're in a position now where if Assad, that regime, the Assad regime will go down eventually but what happens after that? As Mike said, you have the al Qaeda group, then you have the Hezbollah group, which is backed by Iran. When that situation, when he leaves, where are we going to be then?

Bob Schieffer: What does the United States do at this point?

Mike Rogers: I do think we have some option. We're going to have to play for the best worst option at this point. That's the - That's the bad news. We've waited such a long time, so our Arab League partners are already in Syria and trying to provide help to the opposition. I argue, with US leadership -- and again this is not boots on the ground --US leadership through intelligence and training and other things, and coordination of their activities which they're asking for, could be hugely helpful to bringing the regime down quicker, number one, and try to at least have a stabilizing force exist after this happens, and that's our biggest concern.

Bob Schieffer: President Obama said at one point if they found out that the Syrians were using nerve gas or chemical weapons on their own people, that would be a game changer, that would be a red line. Congressman, do you think he's backed away from that now?

Dutch Ruppersberger: I don't think he's backed away, I think he understands that if we're going to be involved that we have to make sure that we all have, all the facts and information, but we can't be the sheriff for the whole world. We have our own issues right now: Iraq, Afghanistan, we have sequestration, those types of issues. So when we move, and make the move to get in, we have to do it with a coalition. The Arab coalition, the other countries in that area. We have resources that no other country has, and we have to make sure that we use them. Some of the resources that we have are the training of people fighting, and the intelligence. And also this issue about weapons: there are plenty of weapons in Syria right now on both sides. And it's a matter of coordinating those weapons and making sure they're used in the right way. Chemical weapons have - we have to deal with it, we will deal with it and we do have information that there are chemical weapons that have been used.

Mike Rogers: As we've been saying for some time now, we believe over the course of two years chemical weapons have been used. I think that's beyond a shadow of a doubt at this point. And we really don't want to be the sheriff, but we do want to be the coach. That's where we can bring the most impact. And why this is important: you have eight percent of the trade goes through the Suez Canal - and that's worldwide trade. If this spills out of control, and that's worldwide trade, imagine what impact that has on prices here at home, on the economic development here at home. It's spilling over in the region right now. And It's led by Iran.

Bob Schieffer: Would either of you consider setting up a no-fly zone using U.S. planes? You say no boots on the ground, but what about planes in the sky?

Mike Rogers: You can do a no-fly zone through better technology. You don't have to have planes flying over the sky. You need to knock out a few of those jet fighters when they're flying over, delivering munitions on civilians in Syria. We have ways to do that without exposing our planes. That's the kind of no fly zone that we can do and operate. And we do this through our partners, the Arab League, and that keeps boots from being on the ground. And I'll tell you it's a game changer, when airplanes and helicopters start falling out of the sky.

Bob Schieffer: Alright, gentlemen. I wish we could go on. I'll be back in a moment and I'll have some personal thoughts.


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