New Benghazi testimony in Congress sharply critical of Obama administration (+video)
Three State Department officials, referred to as 'whistleblowers' by some on the House panel, testified on the Benghazi attack for hours in an intensely partisan atmosphere.
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Also testifying were Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer who was assigned to Libya up until the summer of 2012, and Mark Thompson, the acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism.Skip to next paragraph
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The highly partisan atmosphere of the Oversight hearing was augmented by the laments of several Democratic members of the committee that Mr. Thompson had refused to speak with any of the committee’s Democrats, an accusation Thompson made no effort to deny.
Thompson described how his request for a specialized emergency response team was rebuffed by officials at the White House. He said he got the idea the officials weren’t sure what was happening in Benghazi and therefore weren’t sure if the “FEST” team of special operations forces and intelligence personnel was a suitable option. He also said he considered the response inadequate because “one definition of a crisis is you do not know what’s going to happen in two hours.”
In many respects the hearing covered old ground. Republicans repeatedly cited the claims of the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, on Sunday talk shows five days after Benghazi that the attack was the result of a “spontaneous demonstration” of individuals enraged by a US-made video denigrating the prophet Mohammed.
Asked for his response when he heard the ambassador’s words, Hicks said, “I was stunned. My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed.”
The administration position has been that Rice was speaking off of talking points provided by US intelligence agencies. Some intelligence officials have said that a desire not to tip off parties responsible for the attack or to compromise intelligence sources was behind the talking points issued to Rice.
At the hearing, the committee’s Democrats played a video clip of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stating that Rice was speaking based on information provided her at the time.
But Hicks told the committee that Rice’s talk of a demonstration- turned-deadly-mob infuriated Libyan officials to such an extent that the go-ahead for a team of FBI investigators to head to Benghazi was delayed by more than two weeks.
He also said that his expressions of dismay over Rice’s testimony was the beginning of a tailspin for his State Department career that left him demoted to his current “desk officer” ranking.
Comments from both Republicans and Democrats suggested more hearings on Benghazi are to come, but it is unclear that the hours of testimony changed anyone’s thinking or how Congress will address Benghazi.
One thing the administration should learn, some experts say, is to be more open more quickly, while others say nearly the opposite: that one lesson of Benghazi should be not to speak before knowing more about what’s going on.
“One lesson should be a cautionary one to people who make statements before they really know what’s going on,” says Joseph Wippl, a longtime CIA operations officer now in charge of graduate studies at Boston University’s Department of International Relations.
The administration is at fault for making statements “before all the facts were examined,” something he says opened the door to Benghazi’s politicization.
As for the theory that the reason the administration’s public comments were tailored was to protect what the CIA had going on in Benghazi, Mr. Wippl says, “It could have been, and if it was it was a mistake.”
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