U.S. Diplomat Will Tell Testify He Thought Benghazi 'a Terrorist Attack From the Get-Go'

May 6, 2013 - 6:01 AM

Clinton Libya

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pounds her fist as she testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CNSNews.com) - The Sept. 11, 2012 terror attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya is a "story that just won't go away," as "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer put it on Sunday's show.

What happened in Benghazi "remains a source of controversy," Schieffer said, as he broke the news that Greg Hicks, then the number two diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, will tell a House committee this week that he never doubted it was a terrorist attack.

"Surprisingly, this will be the first time anyone has heard publicly from Hicks," Schieffer said.

"I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go," Schieffer quoted Hicks as telling congressional investigators. "I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning."

Hicks told investigators there was never any indication that the attack erupted spontaneously from a protest over an obscure anti-Muslim video in Egypt, as Ambassador Susan Rice was still claiming five days later.  "For there to have been a demonstration on Chris Steven's front door and him not to have reported if is unbelievable," Hicks was quoted as saying.

Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, was one of four Americans killed in the attack, which began at the U.S. mission in Benghazi and spread hours later to a nearby CIA compound.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) chairs the committee that will hear from Hicks on Wednesday. He told Schieffer that the Obama administration was trying to pretend the war on terror was over in the run-up to the presidential election.

"There was this normalization, sort of a mentality where you had to pretend like things were safe, the war on terror was over. And that may have gone in a great way to getting people to say well, we can't call this a terrorist attack because then the war on terror is back alive.

"Well, Bob, the war on terror is very much alive, whether it's Chechen nationals that come here, or it's what's going on in Syria, it's al Qaeda around the world. And that's the reality that, hopefully, State Department people will feel at least they are being properly protected after this attack."

Schieffer noted that even Libyan President Mohammed al-Magariaf told CBS News, "The way these perpetrators acted and moved...this leaves us with no doubt that this was preplanned, determined, predetermined."

But Susan Rice disagreed: "We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned," she told "Face the Nation" five days after the attack. Rice went on all the Sunday shows on Sept. 16, insisting that what happened in Benghazi stemmed from protests that had erupted in Egypt hours earlier.

Schieffer quoted Hicks as saying that his "jaw hit the floor" as he watched Rice deliver the Obama administration's response to the Benghazi attack: "I've never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career, as on that day. I never reported a demonstration. I reported an attack on the consulate. Chris's last report, if you want to say his final report is, 'Greg, we are under attack.' It is jaw dropping that to me how that came to be."

Schieffer said Hicks told investigators from Issa's House Oversight Committee that no one from the State Department contacted him before Ambassador Rice went on the Sunday talk shows.

"I was personally known to one of Ambassador Rice's staff members. I could have been called," Schieffer quoted Hicks as saying. "And you know, the phone call could have been, 'Hey, Greg, Ambassador Rice is going to say blah, blah, blah.' I could have said, no, that's not the right thing. The phone call was never made."

Issa said the administration's "political decision" to tell a different story about the Benghazi attack embarrassed and angered the Libyan president, leading to delays in getting the FBI to the scene: "If anything, we may have compromised our ability to know what really happened there as far as catching the culprits because more weeks went by with no FBI on the ground," Issa said.

Hicks said something similar: "I firmly believe the reason it took so long to get the FBI to Benghazi is because of those Sunday talk shows," Schieffer quoted Hicks as telling congressional investigators.

"Well, ambassadors know that the one thing you don't do is contradict your host, especially at a time when you need their cooperation," Issa said. "This was a fatal error to our relationship, at least for a period of time. And we can't find the purpose. Secretary Clinton should have been among -- above all else, the person who was on the same sheet of music with the Libyan government, and she wasn't."

According to Issa, Hicks said his attempt to contact the State Department after the attack left him with the impression that officials there didn't want to hear from him.

"One of the amazing things is, here you have the person on the ground (Hicks) who probably, of anyone in Tripoli, knows more about what was going on. He's never seen the classified (State Department Accountability Review Board) report. They have not let him see it. So when he says that that is a flawed report, he says so with the same information we have publicly..."

Issa said in doing the report, the State Department met its statutory requirement to conduct an investigation -- "but it doesn't answer any real questions or place blame on people who were involved in this failure."

In addition to hearing from Hicks on Wednesday, Issa's  House Oversight and Government Reform Committee expects to hear from  Mark Thompson, a counterterrorism expert with the State Department, "who will testify more than anything else that, shortly after this began, he got locked out of the room, even though he was the individual who was supposed to react to these kinds of things."

Thompson leads the Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST), the U.S. government's only interagency, on-call team poised to rapidly respond to terrorist incidents worldwide. His team was never called to Benghazi.

The third witness will be Eric Nordstrom, who -- according to Issa -- "was pushing for more security, saying that this was a problem leading up to and shortly before the attack." (Nordstrom, at the time of the Benghazi attack, was a supervisor with the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.)