Gregory Hicks (C), Foreign Service Officer and former Deputy Chief of Mission/Charge d’Affairs in Libya, speaks while Mark Thompson (L), acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism at the US State Department, and Eric Nordstrom, Diplomatic Security Officer and former US State Department Regional Security Officer in Libya, listen during a hearing of the House Committee On Oversight and Government Reform on Capitol Hill May 8, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing to investigate the events and response to a 2012 attack on one of the United States's diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Three Benghazi whistleblowers appeared before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday to shed some light on the deadly terrorist attack that claimed the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, State Department official Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
Several stunning revelations were made throughout the hearing, however, there were a few things that stood out.
Here are the five key things to take away from Wednesday's Benghazi hearing:
5. State Department Official Fingered Terror Group Day After Attack
One of the biggest points of contention in the Benghazi investigation has been: Why did the Obama administration initially blame the terrorist attack on a YouTube video when there was no apparent evidence to support that theory?
During the House Oversight Committee hearing on the Benghazi attack, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) read from an email sent by Beth Jones, the acting assistant secretary for Middle Eastern affairs at the State Department, to Benghazi whistleblower Gregory Hicks and other top administration officials. In it, she fingered Ansar al-Sharia, a radical Islamic terror group, as the perpetrator behind the attack after the Libyan government speculated that they might be ex-Gadhafi forces.
The email was sent the day after the attack on Sept. 12, 2012 -- well before the Obama administration started pushing the YouTube video narrative.
“I spoke to the Libyan ambassador and emphasized the importance of Libyan leaders continuing to make strong statements,” the email read. “When he said his government expected that former Ghadafi regime elements carried out the attacks, I told him that the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.”
Gowdy said the email was previously unreleased, but not classified.
4. Who Is Lt. Col. Gibson?
Benghazi whistleblower Gregory Hicks repeatedly brought up a man by the name of Lt. Col. Gibson. Other than the fact that he was a Special Operations Command (SOC) Africa commander, we don't know much else about him.
But more importantly, we don't know what else he knows about the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2012. On the night of the Benghazi attack, Gibson was "furious" when a stand down order was given, preventing Special Forces from intervening in Libya, Hicks testified.
Hicks said Gibson wanted to bring the Americans trapped in Benghazi home, but was unable to act. Does Gibson know who personally issued the stand down order? Does he know how far up the chain of command the order originated?
These are questions to keep in mind as the investigation proceeds.
3. Benghazi Witness Told Not to Speak With Congressional Investigator Alone
Hicks on Wednesday also revealed that he was told by Obama administration officials not to talk with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) unsupervised.
A State Department lawyer accompanied the delegation and tried to be in every single meeting he was involved in, Hicks claimed.
Chaffetz, who traveled to Benghazi after the attack to investigate, also claimed back in October that the administration assigned a State Department attorney to follow him in his every "footstep" during his investigative trip.
2. Whistleblower 'Effectively Demoted' After Questioning Benghazi Talking Points
Gregory Hicks told members of Congress that he has been "effectively demoted" from his position as deputy chief of mission shortly after he questioned United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice's explanation that the Benghazi attack was the result of a spontaneous protest sparked by a YouTube video.
Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission under murdered U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, now holds the title of foreign affairs officer in the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs.
“In hindsight I think it began after I asked a question about Ambassador Rice’s statement on the TV shows,” Hicks said, after being asked what the "seminal" moment had been in all of his new professional criticism.
1. There Was a Stand Down Order
Though some the details are still fuzzy, someone issued a stand down order that prevented Special Forces from traveling to Benghazi to intervene after the attack.
Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission for the U.S. in Libya and the highest ranking official in the country at the time of the Benghazi attacks, testified that either AFRICOMM or SOCAFRICA issued the stand down order, though he didn't have a name or where the command originated.
Hicks said Lt. Col. Gibson, a Special Operations Command (SOC) Africa commander, was "furious" after receiving the stand down order. "Lt. Col. Gibson was furious. I had told him to go bring our people home. That’s what he wanted to do," he said.
However, the burning question remains: Who, with the appropriate authority, actually gave the stand down order? And why?