Today’s hearing on Benghazi features three whistleblowers: Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism at the State Department; Eric Nordstrom, diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya; and Gregory Hicks, a foreign service officer and former deputy chief of mission in Libya. The statements from Hicks loom the largest, given his status as the top U.S. official in Libya after Amb. Chris Stevens’ death and the nature of his accusations as excerpted by House Oversight Committee staffers earlier this week. Here’s what you need to know about Hicks during today’s hearings:
Who he is: With a 22-year career at the State Department, Hicks has distinguished record of service in six overseas assignments in Bahrain, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and The Gambia. In the course of his service, he’s received six Meritorious Service Increases, three individual Meritorious Honor Awards, and four individual Superior Honor Awards. At the time of the attack in Benghazi, Hicks was the number two U.S. official in Libya.
What he’s alleging: Hicks says he knew immediately that the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2011, was a terrorist attack. He also told committee staffers that he was turned down by Washington after asking for more support during the night of the raid USA Today’s Oren Dorell has a good recap of his statements:
"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 said 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 said 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."
How the Pentagon responds: In response to Hicks’s allegations, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Robert Firman says there was not an order to stand-down:
Firman said Tuesday that the military is trying to assess the incident Hicks is referring to, but the aircraft in question wound up evacuating a second wave of Americans from Benghazi to Tripoli, not transporting rescuers to a firefight.
The Department of Defense "responded in every way it could as quickly as it could and we were coordinating with the Department of State every step of the way," he said.
Watch the testimony live below: