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Greg Hicks, former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, told congressional investigators that the State Department internal review of the catastrophe at the mission in Benghazi "let people off the hook," CNN has learned.
The Accountability Review Board "report itself doesn’t really ascribe blame to any individual at all. The public report anyway," Hicks told investigators, according to transcript excerpts obtained by CNN. "It does let people off the hook."
The board's report on the Benghazi attack, in which Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in September, is being reviewed by the State Department's Office of Inspector General.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Sunday on CBS that Hicks will testify Wednesday in a congressional hearing on the deadly attack in Benghazi.
"In our system, people who make decisions have been confirmed by the Senate to make decisions," Hicks told investigators."The three people in the State Department who are on administrative leave pending disciplinary action are below Senate confirmation level. Now, the DS (Diplomatic Security) assistant secretary resigned, and he is at Senate confirmation level. Yet the paper trail is pretty clear that decisions were being made above his level.
Whom might Hicks be referring to? He specifically mentions Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy.
"Certainly the fact that Under Secretary Kennedy required a daily report of the personnel in country and who personally approved every official American who went to Tripoli or Benghazi, either on assignment or TDY (temporary duty), would suggest some responsibility about security levels within the country lies on his desk," Hicks said.
In the interview, conducted on April 11, Hicks also makes clear that he immediately believed the September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi had been conducted by terrorists, though the White House and other officials in the Obama administration initially suggested that the attack was the result of an out-of-control demonstration against an anti-Muslim YouTube video.
"I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get‑go," said Hicks, who was in Tripoli during the attack. "I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning."
Hicks said he never had any indication that there had been a popular protest outside the mission in Benghazi.
"I never reported a demonstration; I reported an attack on the consulate," Hicks said. Stevens' "last report, if you want to say his final report, is, 'Greg, we are under attack.'"
You know, it's jaw‑dropping that ‑‑ to me that ‑‑ how that came to be," Hicks recalled. "And, you know, I knew ‑‑ I was personally known to one of (U.S.) Ambassador (to the United Nations Susan) Rice's staff members. And, you know, we're six hours ahead of Washington. Even on Sunday morning, I could have been called, and, you know, the phone call could have been, 'hey, Greg, Ambassador Rice is going to say blah, blah, blah, blah,' and I could have said, 'no, that's not the right thing.' That phone call was never made."
Hicks said that "for there to have been a demonstration on Chris Stevens' front door and him not to have reported it is unbelievable. And secondly, if he had reported it, he would have been out the back door within minutes of any demonstration appearing anywhere near that facility. And there was a back gate to the facility, and, you know, it worked."
Hicks said that despite being the senior diplomat in Libya after Stevens was killed, he wasn't consulted at all before Rice went on Sunday talk shows to discuss the attacks.
Rice contradicted Libyan President Mohammed Magariaf, who said the same day that "this was an attack by Islamic extremists, possibly with terrorist links," Hicks said. "He describes what happens. He tells the truth of what happened. And so, you know, Ambassador Rice says what she says, contradicting what the president of Libya says from Benghazi."
This violated "a cardinal rule of diplomacy that we learn in our orientation class, and that rule is, never inadvertently insult your interlocutor. The net impact of what has transpired is, the spokesperson of the most powerful country in the world has basically said that the president of Libya is either a liar or doesn't know what he's talking about. The impact of that is immeasurable. Magariaf has just lost face in front of not only his own people but the world. And, you know, my jaw hit the floor as I watched this. I've never been ‑‑ I have been a professional diplomat for 22 years. I have never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career, as on that day."
That "affected cooperation with the Libyans," Hicks said. "I firmly believe that the reason it took us so long to get the FBI to Benghazi is because of those Sunday talk shows."
The day after Rice's appearance on the Sunday shows, Hicks says, he asked Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones, " 'Why did Ambassador Rice say that?' And Beth Jones said, 'I don't know.'"
Hicks said he didn't think Jones "welcomed the question at all. ... Both the sharpness of the 'I don't know' and the tone of voice ... indicated to me that I had perhaps asked a question that I should not have asked."