WASHINGTON (CN) - Shielding their identities with light disguises, CIA agents testified behind closed doors Tuesday about a fatal 2012 mortar attack on their facility in Benghazi, Libya.
Explosions rocked the CIA annex on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, just hours after an attack on the nearby diplomatic compound killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens and Foreign Service officer Sean Smith.
The second week of trial for the accused ringleader of both clashes, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, began Tuesday with witness testimony from an intelligence officer and the team lead of the CIA’s global response staff.
Neither man’s face was visible in the media room of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where their testimony was broadcast this morning via closed-circuit cameras. A court official described the men as wearing light disguises, such as fake mustaches and wigs.
The officer witness, who testified under the pseudonym Alexander Charles, said he had been in Tripoli when reports emerged at around 10 p.m. of an attack on the consulate.
Finding and bringing home Ambassador Stevens was the CIA’s main objective at that point, Charles said, but first they had to travel 640 miles to Benghazi.
"How the heck are we going to get to Benghazi," Charles recalled his supervisor saying.
Also testifying via pseudonym, team lead Roy Edwards noted that efforts to secure air transport initially failed, and that an overland trip from Tripoli would take between 18 and 20 hours.
An opportunity emerged, however, when Charles told his supervisor about the charter company he happened to have met with earlier that day. "Make it happen,” Charles said his supervisor told him.
Edwards recalled a supervisor handing him a bag with $30,000 in cash for the flight.
After a roughly an hour in the air, the seven-man team landed in Benghazi at around 1 a.m.
The witness’s accounts diverge here, with Edwards saying no Libyan vehicles were parked on the tarmac waiting for them, and Charles describing chaos.
Charles said there were plenty of people who wanted to help, but without the proper vehicles to transport them.
Edwards testified that two Department of Defense operators in the rescue party reached out at this point to the Libyan special forces. After several tries, the Libyans allegedly stopped answering.
"It was apparent they weren't coming," Edwards testified.
As the hours ticked past with no transport, Edwards said he received news that the ambassador was likely dead. Rather than heading straight to a nearby hospital as originally planned, the team set its sights on the CIA annex.
It was this new destination that sparked an offer of transportation from the commander of the Libyan militia, and Edwards said the team arrived at the CIA annex around 5 a.m.
From there they made plans for the Libyan commander to take "nonessentials" to the airport.
"Basically, if you didn't carry a gun you were leaving," he said.
Finding Ambassador Stevens remained the top priority.
"He's the national asset," Edwards testified. "He is basically America."
Charles entered a secure area known as a SCIF once he reached the annex, but former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty went up to the roof to see his colleague Tyrone Woods.
"A few minutes later,” Charles said, “all hell broke loose.”