It was Mr. Hicks who gave the committee and its audience – which included relatives of the four Americans killed in Benghazi – a riveting “tick tock” of events the night of the attack that included phone calls with Stevens. He said the last words he heard from his boss before the last call went dead were, “Greg, we’re under attack.”
Hicks said he sought to have jets overfly the Benghazi mission in a bid to frighten away the attackers and end the assault, but was told the nearest jets were at Aviano Air Base in Italy and would take hours to get in the air.
Hicks did not appear to suggest that any US action could have saved Stevens, who died as a result of the firebombing of the mission and the “safe house” to which the ambassador had retreated. He described the attack as a “petroleum fire” that would have released extremely toxic cyanide gas that one expert told him would incapacitate anyone inhaling it “in one breath.”
But he left open the possibility that some quick action to quell the initial attack might have saved other lives.
Also testifying were Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer who was assigned to Libya up until the summer of 2012, and Mark Thompson, the acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism.
The highly partisan atmosphere of the Oversight hearing was augmented by the laments of several Democratic members of the committee that Mr. Thompson had refused to speak with any of the committee’s Democrats, an accusation Thompson made no effort to deny.
Thompson described how his request for a specialized emergency response team was rebuffed by officials at the White House. He said he got the idea the officials weren’t sure what was happening in Benghazi and therefore weren’t sure if the “FEST” team of special operations forces and intelligence personnel was a suitable option. He also said he considered the response inadequate because “one definition of a crisis is you do not know what’s going to happen in two hours.”
In many respects the hearing covered old ground. Republicans repeatedly cited the claims of the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, on Sunday talk shows five days after Benghazi that the attack was the result of a “spontaneous demonstration” of individuals enraged by a US-made video denigrating the prophet Mohammed.