US official saw Benghazi as terrorism from 'get-go'

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WASHINGTON — The second-ranking U.S. official in Libya for last year’s deadly attack on the mission in Benghazi immediately considered it a terrorist attack rather than a spontaneous event, according to a transcript of his interview with congressional investigators. “I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go,” Gregory Hicks, a foreign service officer and former deputy chief of Libyan operations, told investigators, according to excerpts displayed Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program. “I never reported a demonstration, I reported an attack on the consulate.”

His account contrasted with that of Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, after the attack Sept. 11, 2012. She said it grew out of a “spontaneous” demonstration against an anti-Islamic video that was “hijacked” by militants. Hicks said he wasn’t contacted by State Department officials before Rice spoke on five Sunday talk shows Sept. 16.

The Benghazi attack killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. It became a flashpoint in last year’s presidential campaign.

Hicks is to testify May 8 at House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, in a May 1 statement announcing the hearing, accused President Barack Obama’s administration of offering “a carefully selected and sanitized version” of the Benghazi attack.

“Clearly there was a political decision to say something different than what was reasonable to say,” Issa said today on CBS.

Other potential witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the Benghazi attack have been “suppressed” by the administration, Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“There are people, more than one, that have felt intimidation from the State Department,” Chaffetz said.

An April 23 report by Republicans in the U.S. House said the Obama administration presented “misleading” talking points after the attack and removed references to the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaida in eastern Libya, including information about at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi.

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, issued a Sept. 28 statement, 12 days after Rice’s appearances, saying the intelligence community had revised its initial assessment and concluded the assault was “a deliberate and organized terrorist attack.”

Speaking Sunday on “Fox News Sunday,” Representative Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat and member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said there was “no excuse’’ for the administration’s talking points about the attacks.

“It was scrubbed. It was totally inaccurate,” he said. “It was false information.”

Asked whether Rice’s talking points were revised because an al-Qaida attack didn’t fit with the 2012 Obama presidential campaign’s narrative that the terrorist group was on the run, Lynch said: “I think it was a victory of hope over reality, to be honest with you. They were hoping that this wasn’t the case.”

Still, Lynch said allegations of administration intimidation of potential witnesses were “completely false.”

In addition to Hicks, the witnesses scheduled to testify before Issa’s committee May 8 are Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for counterterrorism, and Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer who had been a regional security officer in Libya.

“They have critical information about what occurred before, during and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks that differs on key points from administration officials,” Issa said in a statement.

The Obama administration and congressional Democrats said Republicans are playing politics with the Benghazi incident.

“The politicization of this issue is unfortunate, and it continues unabated,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a May 1 briefing.

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