, USA TODAY
Revelations from State Department "whistle-blowers" on the Benghazi terror attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and others will show that requests for military rescue were turned down and that the White House was immediately aware that the CIA concluded the Libyan attackers were linked to al-Qaeda.
Documents released by various congressional committees and excerpts of interviews provided by the House oversight committee appear to contradict descriptions of the Sept. 11 event as provided by the Pentagon, the White House and then-secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Among them:
• The U.S. military refused to send jets over a raging battlefield in Benghazi in an attempt to scatter the attackers.
• The Pentagon's Africa command refused to let a Special Forces team in Tripoli fly the short distance to Benghazi in an attempt to rescue U.S. personnel.
• The CIA told the White House the attack on the U.S. Consulate was a coordinated assault by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists. But the White House and State Department publicly blamed the attack on a spontaneous mob angered over an anti-Islam video, and claimed the reports of terrorists was not learned until later.
• The State Department never activated a foreign emergency response team, which assists diplomats under attack. A State official will testify this was done to avoid the appearance that a terrorist attack had happened.
The revelations come from witnesses who will appear in public Wednesday before the House oversight committee. Scheduled to speak are: Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for Counterterrorism; Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission and chargé d'affairs in Libya, and Eric Nordstrom, the former regional security officer in Libya. All are current State Department employees.
The information they have already provided committee staffers, together with published reports from other committees, paint a picture of a White House and State Department that tried to prevent information about a terrorist attack from being exposed just weeks before President Obama faced re-election, according Frederick Hill, spokesman for the oversight committee.
"These witnesses have information that has not previously come forward because the administration has tried to suppress it," Hill said. "The testimony of the former deputy chief of mission directly contradicts statements made by high-ranking officials."
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed in the attack along with State Department employee Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. The State Department's Accountability Review Board, appointed by Clinton, later issued a report saying the military assets in the region could not have saved the Americans.
While it was clear from the start that terrorists were involved, that information was scrubbed from talking points memos distributed by the White House, according to the witnesses and investigations conducted by various Republican-led committees in the House of Representatives.
Hicks, who became the top U.S. official in Libya after Stevens' death, told committee staffers he pushed for a stronger military response to an attack he knew from the start was launched by Islamist terrorists, but was rebuffed by Washington, according to excerpts of interview transcripts provided by the House oversight committee.
Hicks said he asked twice whether an F-16 or some other "fast-mover" aircraft could fly over the battlefield with hopes it would scatter the attackers.
"I talked with the defense attache, Lt. Col. Keith Phillips, and I asked him, 'Is there anything coming?' "
According to Hicks' account, Phillips said the nearest fighter planes were in Aviano, Italy, and it would take two to three hours to get them airborne, and there were no tanker assets close enough to support them.
Hicks says when he asked again, before the 5:15 a.m. mortar attack that killed Doherty and Woods, "the answer, again, was the same as before."
Hicks says he believes the Libyan government would have approved the flyover and that it would have been effective because the militias "were under no illusions that American and NATO air power won that war for them," he said.
"If we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split," according to Hicks' excerpts.
"The Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them."
A four-man team of military special operations forces was told not to board a Libyan military flight from Tripoli to Benghazi to reinforce troops sent to defend U.S. diplomatic personnel, Hicks said.
A previous team had already arrived at Benghazi at 1:15 a.m., Hicks said. Less than two hours later, Hicks received a phone call from then-prime minister of Libya Mohammed Magarief reporting that Stevens had died. His death meant Hicks was then in charge of the U.S. mission in Libya.
A second Special Forces team was organized, geared up and about to drive to a C-130 aircraft, when its commander, Lt. Col. Gibson, was ordered to stop by his superiors, Hicks said.
"He got a phone call from SOCAFRICA (Special Operations Command Africa) which said, you can't go now, you don't have authority to go now," Hicks said. "They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it."
Hicks said Gibson told him: "I have never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military."
Hicks said he believed the military stopped the trip because "they just didn't have the right authority from the right level."
Maj. Robert Firman, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday: "There was never any kind of stand-down order to anybody."
State Department and White House officials scrubbed any mention of terrorism from Benghazi talking points given to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, before she went on Sunday talk shows five days after the attack, according to a report by five House committees that investigated how that happened.
The CIA on Sept. 14 circulated a memo that said it had issued numerous warnings about al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Benghazi and throughout Libya. According to the Weekly Standard, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland objected that the CIA report gave the appearance that State did not heed agency warnings. By the time work on the memo was complete the next day, the Standard reported, mention of al-Qaeda and Islamic extremists was gone.