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world lead

May 8th, 2013
06:14 PM ET

Analysis: State Department failed to understand dangerous situation in Benghazi

For eight months, the families waited, and at times begged through tears, for answers to the question: What happened in Benghazi?

On Wednesday, Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for counterterrorism; Eric Nordstrom, former regional security officer in Libya; and Greg Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya, testified before a House committee. The witnesses spoke of the terror attack of last September 11, the Obama administration's response to it, what happened before the post in Benghazi was surrounded by fire, and how the White House didn’t get its message straight after the attack.

The attack killed Christopher Stevens, U.S ambassador to Libya; State Department information officer Sean Smith; and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

"I cry every night. I don't sleep at night," Pat Smith, Sean’s mother, said this week. "I need answers."

Watch "The Lead" on CNN at 4 p.m. for our follow-up interview with Pat Smith, mother of Sean. 

The men who testified Wednesday challenged the Obama administration’s version of events leading up to and after the terror attack. The investigation must continue, Nordstrom said.

"The committee's labors to uncover what happened prior, during and after the attack matter. It matters to me personally, and it matters to my colleagues, to my colleagues at the Department of State," an emotional Nordstrom said.

When Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on TV days after the attack and blamed it on protests to an anti-Islam YouTube video, Hicks said he was shocked.

"I was stunned. My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed," said Hicks, who became emotional speaking about the death of his friend Stevens.

"I received a phone call from the prime minister of Libya. I think it's the saddest phone call I had ever heard in my life. He told me that Ambassador Stevens had passed away," Hicks said, fighting back tears. "I immediately telephoned Washington after the news and began accelerating our effort to withdraw and move the annex."

Before the attack, the State Department repeatedly denied requests from diplomats on the ground for additional security, according to internal State Department e-mails.

"It was clear that in some ways the State Department got used to the notion that its primary responsibility was to live within its budget," Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador, told CNN’s Jake Tapper. Pickering is co-chairman of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board that issued a report on Benghazi in December.

"The changing situation in Benghazi was not understood either on the ground, or in Washington to the degree to which it represented a danger," Pickering said.