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May 7th, 2013
03:43 PM ET

Benghazi attack: Would withdrawn DC-3 plane have made a difference that night?

By Jake Tapper

(CNN) - Former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya Greg Hicks has hypothesized to investigators that the DC-3 airplane previously stationed in Libya - one that the U.S. State Department withdrew from the country a few months before the attack on the US compound in Benghazi - might have made a difference to the Americans killed that night, CNN has learned.

Last October, this reporter, working for ABC News, reported on a May 3, 2012 e-mail indicating that the State Department denied a request from the security team at the embassy in Libya to retain a DC-3 airplane in the country to better conduct their duties. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was copied on the e-mail.

There is no evidence that the DC-3 would have definitively made a difference for the four Americans killed that night - the security team in question was allowed to leave Libya in August, though its members wanted to remain in-country - but questions remain why in the months leading up to the attacks officials in Washington, specifically at the State Department, didn't seem to be doing everything they could to protect Americans given that dangerous assignment.

In his interview with congressional investigators last month, Hicks wondered if that plane - which allowed U.S. officials to transport weapons more easily around the country - would have made a difference, according to excerpts from the transcript of the April interview obtained by CNN.

Hicks, then stationed at the embassy in Tripoli, at one point described how he had visited "the firing line to start learning how to handle the weapons that we had, and we were going to continue to do that to try to build a capacity to protect ourselves."
He then wondered aloud about Ambassador Stevens and Information Officer Sean Smith, and their activities the night of September 11, 2012.

"If Chris and Sean have weapons, you know, do they go in that stupid room to hide?" Hicks wondered. "No, maybe they go up on the roof. Maybe they are in the firing positions on the roof together, and there are seven people with weapons. You know, if the airplane ... if the airplane isn't canceled, and we can still bring weapons in and ammunition in and out of the country ... "
At this point in the interview, a congressional investigator asked Hicks to explain the matter about the DC-3 "clearly on the record, because it's just been obtuse about the airplane being canceled and why they don't have their weapons."

After the State Department removed the plane from Libya, Hicks said, "Our guys could no longer bring their own weapons in. So we had only the weapons that we already had there, and people ... had to go out to the range, and ... were assigned a weapon and shoot that weapon so that you could adjust it, because every weapon is personal. At least that's what I have been told. I mean, I am not ... I don't own a weapon. ... one of the things I was doing in my role as DCM (deputy chief of mission) was trying to learn from the DS (diplomatic security) people, because, you know, I didn't want to be in a situation where I couldn't contribute."

Why did the State Department cancel the plane?

"My understanding was general, you know, it was a budget issue," Hicks recalled.

Last October, a senior State Department official downplayed the importance of the denied request, saying that "the DC-3 was pulled from Iraq and moved to support Libya early on when there was no commercial airline service into Libya. When commercial service was re-established in Libya, the aircraft was reassigned to other State Department business. We use our aircraft when no commercial flights exist."

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