(CBS News) “Everybody in the mission” in Benghazi, Libya, thought the attack on a U.S. consulate there last Sept. 11 was an act of terror “from the get-go,” according to excerpts of an interview investigators conducted with the No. 2 official in Libya at the time, obtained exclusively by CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
“I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning,” Greg Hicks, a 22-year foreign service diplomat who was the highest-ranking U.S. official in Libya after the strike, told investigators under authority of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Hicks, the former U.S. Embassy Tripoli deputy chief of mission, was not in Benghazi at the time of the attack, which killed Chris Stevens – then the U.S. ambassador to Libya – and three other Americans.
When he appears this week before the committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Hicks is expected to offer testimony at odds with what some American officials were saying in public – and on “Face the Nation” – just five days after the attack. Benghazi whistleblowers have rallied attention to discrepancies among the administration’s reaction to the attack, which The Weekly Standard suggests was frayed by ever-evolving talking points that sought to remove references to al Qaeda.
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On Sept. 16, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice hit the media circuit, appearing on all five Sunday talk shows to dispel the notion that the strike was a premeditated terrorist act and to perpetuate the case that it began “spontaneously” out of protests in Egypt. Rice’s spot on “Face the Nation” that day was preceded by the new President of Libya Mohammed al-Magariaf, who said his government had “no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined.”
“For there to have been a demonstration on Chris Stevens’s front door and him not to have reported it is unbelievable,” he said. “I never reported a demonstration; I reported an attack on the consulate. Chris – Chris’s last report, if you want to say his final report – is, ‘Greg, we are under attack.’
“…I’ve never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career, as on that day,” Hicks continued in his interview with investigators. “The net impact of what has transpired is, [Rice,] the spokesperson of the most powerful country in the world, has basically said that the president of Libya is either a liar of doesn’t know what he’s talking about. ….My jaw hit the floor as I watched this.”
Though the White House has said it was in contact with officials in Libya the night of the attack, Hicks said in the days following, he was never consulted about the talking points. One day after Rice’s Sunday show blitz, Hicks said he called Beth Jones, acting assistant secretary for near eastern affairs at the State Department, and asked, “Why did Amb. Rice say that?” The tone of her answer – “I don’t know,” he said – indicated that “I perhaps asked a question that I should not have asked.”
The net impact of Rice’s statements, Hicks said, was “immeasurable.” In addition to Magariaf having lost face “in front of not only his own people, but the world” at a time of democratic transition in his country, Hicks added, “I firmly believe that the reason it took us so long to get the FBI to Benghazi is because of those Sunday talk shows.”
“Frankly,” Hicks said, “we never, ever had official approval from the Libyan government to send the FBI to Benghazi. We stitched together a series of lower-level agreements to support from relevant groups, and we sat around in the meeting and we said, ‘Well guys, this is as good as it gets in Libya. And we looked at the legal and said… call it in to D.C. and see if they’re ready, if they’re willing to send a team. And that’s how the FBI got to Benghazi.”
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Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.