A team of U.S. Special Forces in Tripoli preparing to respond to the attack last September on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was ordered to stand down by U.S. Special Forces Command Africa, according to written congressional testimony from the deputy to murdered Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Special Forces officers were slated to board a C-130 from Tripoli to Benghazi at around 6 a.m. on the night of the attack when their commander, Lt. Col. Gibson, was told he did not have the authority to send in his team, according to excerpts of Gregory Hicks’ testimony published by CBS News.
Hicks said the U.S. mission in Benghazi was in touch with the Special Forces team during the attack and expected them to respond.
"We fully intended for those [Special Forces] guys to go [on the flight], because we had already essentially stripped ourselves of our security presence, or our security capability to the bare minimum," said Hicks in testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "They were on their way to the vehicles to go to the airport to get on the C-130 when [Lt. Col. Gibson] got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, you can't go now, you don't have authority to go now. And so they missed the flight."
Hicks said Gibson told him that "I have never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military."
The new allegations appear to contradict the Obama administration’s claim that State Department officials did not request military backup. Hicks and other whistleblowers will testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is resuming its hearings into the Benghazi attack on Wednesday.
Hicks also told congressional investigators that officials at the U.S. mission were aware the attack was terrorism "from the beginning," according to CBS.
Another Benghazi whistleblower, State Department counterterrorism bureau deputy coordinator Mark I. Thompson, will reportedly testify that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and under secretary for management Patrick Kennedy cut the counterterrorism bureau out of the State Department’s response on the night of the attack, according to Fox News.
Thompson said he has faced intimidation from State Department officials who do not want him to testify, Fox News reported this morning. The State Department’s Accountability Review Board, the special internal investigative committee convened by Clinton, reportedly suppressed his testimony. The ARB’s review process is currently under investigation by the department’s inspector general.
A third State Department official, Benghazi regional security officer Eric Nordstrom, will also testify. Nordstrom previously testified alongside other State Department personnel at a congressional hearing last October. He now says he considers himself a whistleblower.
State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell declined to comment on the accuracy of the reported testimony or the reliability of the State Department whistleblowers during today’s press briefing.
"You’re trying to get me into the credibility of witnesses before we’ve even [had] a hearing," Ventrell told reporters. "You have people who go out to the media making all sorts of statements, we don’t have the full context of it."
Ventrell also denied reports State Department officials have intimidated whistleblowers.
"We’re not preventing people from going and telling their story, that’s not what’s going on," he said. "If they have a story they want to tell, they can tell their story." He added that this would be in a personal capacity.
A spokesperson for SOCAFRICA declined to comment and directed requests to the Department of Defense office of public affairs.
A spokesperson for the DoD did not respond to requests for comment.