(CNSNews.com) -- Elements of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, the Libyan militia hired by the U.S. State Department to station members as residents inside the U.S. compound in Benghazi and to protect the U.S. diplomats there, were “complicit” in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans, according to the testimony of Greg Hicks, who was the department's second-ranking diplomat in Libya at the time of the attack.
“Certainly, elements of that militia were complicit in the attacks,” Greg Hicks, the State Department’s former deputy chief of mission in Libya told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. “The attackers had to make a long approach march through multiple checkpoints that were manned by February 17 militia."
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R.-Texas), who asked Hicks about the militia's complicity in the attacks, also asked Eric Nordstrom, who had been the State Department’s regional security officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli until July 26 of last year, whether the department was aware that the militia had any ties to Islamic extremists.
“Absolutely,” said Nordstrom. “Yeah, we had that discussion on a number of occasions, the last of which was when there was a Facebook posting of a threat that named Ambassador Stevens and Senator McCain, who was coming out for the elections that was in the July time frame. I had met with some of my agents and then also with some Annex personnel. We discussed that.”
Farenthold expressed his incredulity that the State Department would hire militia of this nature to provide security.
“I'm stunned that the State Department was relying on a militia with extremist ties to protect American diplomats,” said Farenthold. “That doesn't make any sense. How does that happen?”
“You mean like in Afghanistan where Afghanis that are working with our military that are embedded and turn on them and shoot them?” asked Nordstrom rhetorically. “Or Yemen, where our embassy was attacked in 2008 by attackers wearing police uniforms? Or in Saudi Arabia, in Jedda, we had an attack in 2004? The Saudi National Guard that was protecting our facility reportedly ran from the scene, and then it took 90 minutes before we could get help.”
Nordstrom added that the February 17 Martyrs Brigade “was the unit that the Libyan government had initially designated for VIP protection” for Americans and that it would be “very difficult to extract ourselves from that.”
According to a report published by the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Dec. 30, 2012, a member of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade had warned the RSO at the State Department compound in Benghazi on Sept. 8, 2012, that the militia would no longer protect the movements of Americans diplomats in the city. That specifically included the then-imminent visit of Amb. Stevens.
“In early September, a member of the February 17 Brigade told another RSO [State Department regional security officer] in Benghazi that it could no longer support U.S. personnel movements,” said the Senate committee report. “The RSO also asked specifically if the militia could provide additional support for the Ambassador’s pending visit and was told no.”
On Sept. 9, 2012, the day before Amb. Stevens left for Benghazi, Alec Henderson, the RSO in Benghazi, relayed the warning from the February 17 militia to John Martinec, who was then the RSO in Tripoli.
“[O]n September 8, 2012, just days before Ambassador Stevens arrived in Benghazi, the February 17 Martyrs Brigade told State Department officials that the group would no longer support U.S. movements in the city, including the Ambassador’s visit,” said a report on Benghazi released last month by the chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, Oversight, Judiciary and Armed Services committees.
The report, in a footnote, attributed this information to an “Email from Alec Henderson to John B. Martinec, ‘RE: Benghazi QRF agreement,’ (Sep. 9, 2012 11:31 PM).”
The Accountability Review Board report published by the State Department said that the February 17 militia had stop protecting the movements of U.S. diplomats in Benghazi because of the pay and working hours they got from the State Department.
“At the time of Ambassador Stevens’ visit, February 17 militia members had stopped accompanying Special Mission vehicle movements in protest over salary and working hours,” said the ARB report.
The ARB report also said that normally four members of the militia lived inside the State Department's Benghazi compound, but that on Sept. 11, 2012 one of these four "had been absent for several days, reportedly due to a family illness."
When all four February 17 Martyrs Brigade members were resident at the Benghazi compound they out-numbered the U.S. Diplomatic Security officers stationed there four to three.