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The Killing of Osama bin Laden: Shooting fish in a barrel?

J. Abizeid

Well-Known Member
Seymour M. Hersh · The Killing of Osama bin Laden · LRB 21 May 2015

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Seymour M. Hersh


It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she’d been told by a ‘Pakistani official’ that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he’d spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who – reflecting a widely held local view – asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was ‘quite possible’ that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, ‘but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.’

This spring I contacted Durrani and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources: that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006; that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false.

‘When your version comes out – if you do it – people in Pakistan will be tremendously grateful,’ Durrani told me. ‘For a long time people have stopped trusting what comes out about bin Laden from the official mouths. There will be some negative political comment and some anger, but people like to be told the truth, and what you’ve told me is essentially what I have heard from former colleagues who have been on a fact-finding mission since this episode.’ As a former ISI head, he said, he had been told shortly after the raid by ‘people in the “strategic community” who would know’ that there had been an informant who had alerted the US to bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, and that after his killing the US’s betrayed promises left Kayani and Pasha exposed.

The major US source for the account that follows is a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. He also was privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid, and to the various after-action reports. Two other US sources, who had access to corroborating information, have been longtime consultants to the Special Operations Command. I also received information from inside Pakistan about widespread dismay among the senior ISI and military leadership – echoed later by Durrani – over Obama’s decision to go public immediately with news of bin Laden’s death. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

It began with a walk-in. In August 2010 a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, then the CIA’s station chief at the US embassy in Islamabad. He offered to tell the CIA where to find bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001. Walk-ins are assumed by the CIA to be unreliable, and the response from the agency’s headquarters was to fly in a polygraph team. The walk-in passed the test. ‘So now we’ve got a lead on bin Laden living in a compound in Abbottabad, but how do we really know who it is?’ was the CIA’s worry at the time, the retired senior US intelligence official told me.

The US initially kept what it knew from the Pakistanis. ‘The fear was that if the existence of the source was made known, the Pakistanis themselves would move bin Laden to another location. So only a very small number of people were read into the source and his story,’ the retired official said. ‘The CIA’s first goal was to check out the quality of the informant’s information.’ The compound was put under satellite surveillance. The CIA rented a house in Abbottabad to use as a forward observation base and staffed it with Pakistani employees and foreign nationals. Later on, the base would serve as a contact point with the ISI; it attracted little attention because Abbottabad is a holiday spot full of houses rented on short leases. A psychological profile of the informant was prepared. (The informant and his family were smuggled out of Pakistan and relocated in the Washington area. He is now a consultant for the CIA.)


‘By October the military and intelligence community were discussing the possible military options. Do we drop a bunker buster on the compound or take him out with a drone strike? Perhaps send someone to kill him, single assassin style? But then we’d have no proof of who he was,’ the retired official said. ‘We could see some guy is walking around at night, but we have no intercepts because there’s no commo coming from the compound.’

In October, Obama was briefed on the intelligence. His response was cautious, the retired official said. ‘It just made no sense that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad. It was just too crazy. The president’s position was emphatic: “Don’t talk to me about this any more unless you have proof that it really is bin Laden.”’ The immediate goal of the CIA leadership and the Joint Special Operations Command was to get Obama’s support. They believed they would get this if they got DNA evidence, and if they could assure him that a night assault of the compound would carry no risk. The only way to accomplish both things, the retired official said, ‘was to get the Pakistanis on board’.

During the late autumn of 2010, the US continued to keep quiet about the walk-in, and Kayani and Pasha continued to insist to their American counterparts that they had no information about bin Laden’s whereabouts. ‘The next step was to figure out how to ease Kayani and Pasha into it – to tell them that we’ve got intelligence showing that there is a high-value target in the compound, and to ask them what they know about the target,’ the retired official said. ‘The compound was not an armed enclave – no machine guns around, because it was under ISI control.’ The walk-in had told the US that bin Laden had lived undetected from 2001 to 2006 with some of his wives and children in the Hindu Kush mountains, and that ‘the ISI got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him.’ (Reports after the raid placed him elsewhere in Pakistan during this period.) Bank was also told by the walk-in that bin Laden was very ill, and that early on in his confinement at Abbottabad, the ISI had ordered Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army, to move nearby to provide treatment. ‘The truth is that bin Laden was an invalid, but we cannot say that,’ the retired official said. ‘“You mean you guys shot a cripple? Who was about to grab his AK-47?”’

‘It didn’t take long to get the co-operation we needed, because the Pakistanis wanted to ensure the continued release of American military aid, a good percentage of which was anti-terrorism funding that finances personal security, such as bullet-proof limousines and security guards and housing for the ISI leadership,’ the retired official said. He added that there were also under-the-table personal ‘incentives’ that were financed by off-the-books Pentagon contingency funds. ‘The intelligence community knew what the Pakistanis needed to agree – there was the carrot. And they chose the carrot. It was a win-win. We also did a little blackmail. We told them we would leak the fact that you’ve got bin Laden in your backyard. We knew their friends and enemies’ – the Taliban and jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan – ‘would not like it.’

A worrying factor at this early point, according to the retired official, was Saudi Arabia, which had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. ‘The Saudis didn’t want bin Laden’s presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaida. And they were dropping money – lots of it. The Pakistanis, in turn, were concerned that the Saudis might spill the beans about their control of bin Laden. The fear was that if the US found out about bin Laden from Riyadh, all hell would break out. The Americans learning about bin Laden’s imprisonment from a walk-in was not the worst thing.’

Despite their constant public feuding, American and Pakistani military and intelligence services have worked together closely for decades on counterterrorism in South Asia. Both services often find it useful to engage in public feuds ‘to cover their asses’, as the retired official put it, but they continually share intelligence used for drone attacks, and co-operate on covert operations. At the same time, it’s understood in Washington that elements of the ISI believe that maintaining a relationship with the Taliban leadership inside Afghanistan is essential to national security. The ISI’s strategic aim is to balance Indian influence in Kabul; the Taliban is also seen in Pakistan as a source of jihadist shock troops who would back Pakistan against India in a confrontation over Kashmir.

Adding to the tension was the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, often depicted in the Western press as an ‘Islamic bomb’ that might be transferred by Pakistan to an embattled nation in the Middle East in the event of a crisis with Israel. The US looked the other way when Pakistan began building its weapons system in the 1970s and it’s widely believed it now has more than a hundred nuclear warheads. It’s understood in Washington that US security depends on the maintenance of strong military and intelligence ties to Pakistan. The belief is mirrored in Pakistan.

‘The Pakistani army sees itself as family,’ the retired official said. ‘Officers call soldiers their sons and all officers are “brothers”. The attitude is different in the American military. The senior Pakistani officers believe they are the elite and have got to look out for all of the people, as keepers of the flame against Muslim fundamentalism. The Pakistanis also know that their trump card against aggression from India is a strong relationship with the United States. They will never cut their person-to-person ties with us.’

Like all CIA station chiefs, Bank was working undercover, but that ended in early December 2010 when he was publicly accused of murder in a criminal complaint filed in Islamabad by Karim Khan, a Pakistani journalist whose son and brother, according to local news reports, had been killed by a US drone strike. Allowing Bank to be named was a violation of diplomatic protocol on the part of the Pakistani authorities, and it brought a wave of unwanted publicity. Bank was ordered to leave Pakistan by the CIA, whose officials subsequently told the Associated Press he was transferred because of concerns for his safety. The New York Times reported that there was ‘strong suspicion’ the ISI had played a role in leaking Bank’s name to Khan. There was speculation that he was outed as payback for the publication in a New York lawsuit a month earlier of the names of ISI chiefs in connection with the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008. But there was a collateral reason, the retired official said, for the CIA’s willingness to send Bank back to America. The Pakistanis needed cover in case their co-operation with the Americans in getting rid of bin Laden became known. The Pakistanis could say: “You’re talking about me? We just kicked out your station chief.”’

The bin Laden compound was less than two miles from the Pakistan Military Academy, and a Pakistani army combat battalion headquarters was another mile or so away. Abbottabad is less than 15 minutes by helicopter from Tarbela Ghazi, an important base for ISI covert operations and the facility where those who guard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal are trained. ‘Ghazi is why the ISI put bin Laden in Abbottabad in the first place,’ the retired official said, ‘to keep him under constant supervision.’


The risks for Obama were high at this early stage, especially because there was a troubling precedent: the failed 1980 attempt to rescue the American hostages in Tehran. That failure was a factor in Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan. Obama’s worries were realistic, the retired official said. ‘Was bin Laden ever there? Was the whole story a product of Pakistani deception? What about political blowback in case of failure?’ After all, as the retired official said, ‘If the mission fails, Obama’s just a black Jimmy Carter and it’s all over for re-election.’

Obama was anxious for reassurance that the US was going to get the right man. The proof was to come in the form of bin Laden’s DNA. The planners turned for help to Kayani and Pasha, who asked Aziz to obtain the specimens. Soon after the raid the press found out that Aziz had been living in a house near the bin Laden compound: local reporters discovered his name in Urdu on a plate on the door. Pakistani officials denied that Aziz had any connection to bin Laden, but the retired official told me that Aziz had been rewarded with a share of the $25 million reward the US had put up because the DNA sample had showed conclusively that it was bin Laden in Abbottabad. (In his subsequent testimony to a Pakistani commission investigating the bin Laden raid, Aziz said that he had witnessed the attack on Abbottabad, but had no knowledge of who was living in the compound and had been ordered by a superior officer to stay away from the scene.)

Bargaining continued over the way the mission would be executed. ‘Kayani eventually tells us yes, but he says you can’t have a big strike force. You have to come in lean and mean. And you have to kill him, or there is no deal,’ the retired official said. The agreement was struck by the end of January 2011, and Joint Special Operations Command prepared a list of questions to be answered by the Pakistanis: ‘How can we be assured of no outside intervention? What are the defences inside the compound and its exact dimensions? Where are bin Laden’s rooms and exactly how big are they? How many steps in the stairway? Where are the doors to his rooms, and are they reinforced with steel? How thick?’ The Pakistanis agreed to permit a four-man American cell – a Navy Seal, a CIA case officer and two communications specialists – to set up a liaison office at Tarbela Ghazi for the coming assault. By then, the military had constructed a mock-up of the compound in Abbottabad at a secret former nuclear test site in Nevada, and an elite Seal team had begun rehearsing for the attack.

The US had begun to cut back on aid to Pakistan – to ‘turn off the spigot’, in the retired official’s words. The provision of 18 new F-16 fighter aircraft was delayed, and under-the-table cash payments to the senior leaders were suspended. In April 2011 Pasha met the CIA director, Leon Panetta, at agency headquarters. ‘Pasha got a commitment that the United States would turn the money back on, and we got a guarantee that there would be no Pakistani opposition during the mission,’ the retired official said. ‘Pasha also insisted that Washington stop complaining about Pakistan’s lack of co-operation with the American war on terrorism.’ At one point that spring, Pasha offered the Americans a blunt explanation of the reason Pakistan kept bin Laden’s capture a secret, and why it was imperative for the ISI role to remain secret: ‘We needed a hostage to keep tabs on al-Qaida and the Taliban,’ Pasha said, according to the retired official. ‘The ISI was using bin Laden as leverage against Taliban and al-Qaida activities inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. They let the Taliban and al-Qaida leadership know that if they ran operations that clashed with the interests of the ISI, they would turn bin Laden over to us. So if it became known that the Pakistanis had worked with us to get bin Laden at Abbottabad, there would be hell to pay.’

At one of his meetings with Panetta, according to the retired official and a source within the CIA, Pasha was asked by a senior CIA official whether he saw himself as acting in essence as an agent for al-Qaida and the Taliban. ‘He answered no, but said the ISI needed to have some control.’ The message, as the CIA saw it, according to the retired official, was that Kayani and Pasha viewed bin Laden ‘as a resource, and they were more interested in their [own] survival than they were in the United States’.

A Pakistani with close ties to the senior leadership of the ISI told me that ‘there was a deal with your top guys. We were very reluctant, but it had to be done – not because of personal enrichment, but because all of the American aid programmes would be cut off. Your guys said we will starve you out if you don’t do it, and the okay was given while Pasha was in Washington. The deal was not only to keep the taps open, but Pasha was told there would be more goodies for us.’ The Pakistani said that Pasha’s visit also resulted in a commitment from the US to give Pakistan ‘a freer hand’ in Afghanistan as it began its military draw-down there. ‘And so our top dogs justified the deal by saying this is for our country.’

Pasha and Kayani were responsible for ensuring that Pakistan’s army and air defence command would not track or engage with the US helicopters used on the mission. The American cell at Tarbela Ghazi was charged with co-ordinating communications between the ISI, the senior US officers at their command post in Afghanistan, and the two Black Hawk helicopters; the goal was to ensure that no stray Pakistani fighter plane on border patrol spotted the intruders and took action to stop them. The initial plan said that news of the raid shouldn’t be announced straightaway. All units in the Joint Special Operations Command operate under stringent secrecy and the JSOC leadership believed, as did Kayani and Pasha, that the killing of bin Laden would not be made public for as long as seven days, maybe longer. Then a carefully constructed cover story would be issued: Obama would announce that DNA analysis confirmed that bin Laden had been killed in a drone raid in the Hindu Kush, on Afghanistan’s side of the border. The Americans who planned the mission assured Kayani and Pasha that their co-operation would never be made public. It was understood by all that if the Pakistani role became known, there would be violent protests – bin Laden was considered a hero by many Pakistanis – and Pasha and Kayani and their families would be in danger, and the Pakistani army publicly disgraced.

It was clear to all by this point, the retired official said, that bin Laden would not survive: ‘Pasha told us at a meeting in April that he could not risk leaving bin Laden in the compound now that we know he’s there. Too many people in the Pakistani chain of command know about the mission. He and Kayani had to tell the whole story to the directors of the air defence command and to a few local commanders.

‘Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,’ the retired official said. ‘Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.’ A former Seal commander, who has led and participated in dozens of similar missions over the past decade, assured me that ‘we were not going to keep bin Laden alive – to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We’ve come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, “Let’s face it. We’re going to commit a murder.”’ The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.

At the Abbottabad compound ISI guards were posted around the clock to keep watch over bin Laden and his wives and children. They were under orders to leave as soon as they heard the rotors of the US helicopters. The town was dark: the electricity supply had been cut off on the orders of the ISI hours before the raid began. One of the Black Hawks crashed inside the walls of the compound, injuring many on board. ‘The guys knew the TOT [time on target] had to be tight because they would wake up the whole town going in,’ the retired official said. The cockpit of the crashed Black Hawk, with its communication and navigational gear, had to be destroyed by concussion grenades, and this would create a series of explosions and a fire visible for miles. Two Chinook helicopters had flown from Afghanistan to a nearby Pakistani intelligence base to provide logistical support, and one of them was immediately dispatched to Abbottabad. But because the helicopter had been equipped with a bladder loaded with extra fuel for the two Black Hawks, it first had to be reconfigured as a troop carrier. The crash of the Black Hawk and the need to fly in a replacement were nerve-wracking and time-consuming setbacks, but the Seals continued with their mission. There was no firefight as they moved into the compound; the ISI guards had gone. ‘Everyone in Pakistan has a gun and high-profile, wealthy folks like those who live in Abbottabad have armed bodyguards, and yet there were no weapons in the compound,’ the retired official pointed out. Had there been any opposition, the team would have been highly vulnerable. Instead, the retired official said, an ISI liaison officer flying with the Seals guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters. The Seals had been warned by the Pakistanis that heavy steel doors blocked the stairwell on the first and second-floor landings; bin Laden’s rooms were on the third floor. The Seal squad used explosives to blow the doors open, without injuring anyone. One of bin Laden’s wives was screaming hysterically and a bullet – perhaps a stray round – struck her knee. Aside from those that hit bin Laden, no other shots were fired. (The Obama administration’s account would hold otherwise.)


‘They knew where the target was – third floor, second door on the right,’ the retired official said. ‘Go straight there. Osama was cowering and retreated into the bedroom. Two shooters followed him and opened up. Very simple, very straightforward, very professional hit.’ Some of the Seals were appalled later at the White House’s initial insistence that they had shot bin Laden in self-defence, the retired official said. ‘Six of the Seals’ finest, most experienced NCOs, faced with an unarmed elderly civilian, had to kill him in self-defence? The house was shabby and bin Laden was living in a cell with bars on the window and barbed wire on the roof. The rules of engagement were that if bin Laden put up any opposition they were authorised to take lethal action. But if they suspected he might have some means of opposition, like an explosive vest under his robe, they could also kill him. So here’s this guy in a mystery robe and they shot him. It’s not because he was reaching for a weapon. The rules gave them absolute authority to kill the guy.’ The later White House claim that only one or two bullets were fired into his head was ‘bullshit’, the retired official said. ‘The squad came through the door and obliterated him. As the Seals say, “We kicked his ass and took his gas.”’

After they killed bin Laden, ‘the Seals were just there, some with physical injuries from the crash, waiting for the relief chopper,’ the retired official said. ‘Twenty tense minutes. The Black Hawk is still burning. There are no city lights. No electricity. No police. No fire trucks. They have no prisoners.’ Bin Laden’s wives and children were left for the ISI to interrogate and relocate. ‘Despite all the talk,’ the retired official continued, there were ‘no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks. The Seals weren’t there because they thought bin Laden was running a command centre for al-Qaida operations, as the White House would later tell the media. And they were not intelligence experts gathering information inside that house.’

On a normal assault mission, the retired official said, there would be no waiting around if a chopper went down. ‘The Seals would have finished the mission, thrown off their guns and gear, and jammed into the remaining Black Hawk and di-di-maued’ – Vietnamese slang for leaving in a rush – ‘out of there, with guys hanging out of the doors. They would not have blown the chopper – no commo gear is worth a dozen lives – unless they knew they were safe. Instead they stood around outside the compound, waiting for the bus to arrive.’ Pasha and Kayani had delivered on all their promises.


The backroom argument inside the White House began as soon as it was clear that the mission had succeeded. Bin Laden’s body was presumed to be on its way to Afghanistan. Should Obama stand by the agreement with Kayani and Pasha and pretend a week or so later that bin Laden had been killed in a drone attack in the mountains, or should he go public immediately? The downed helicopter made it easy for Obama’s political advisers to urge the latter plan. The explosion and fireball would be impossible to hide, and word of what had happened was bound to leak. Obama had to ‘get out in front of the story’ before someone in the Pentagon did: waiting would diminish the political impact.

Not everyone agreed. Robert Gates, the secretary of defence, was the most outspoken of those who insisted that the agreements with Pakistan had to be honoured. In his memoir, Duty, Gates did not mask his anger:

Before we broke up and the president headed upstairs to tell the American people what had just happened, I reminded everyone that the techniques, tactics and procedures the Seals had used in the bin Laden operation were used every night in Afghanistan … it was therefore essential that we agree not to release any operational details of the raid. That we killed him, I said, is all we needed to say. Everybody in that room agreed to keep mum on details. That commitment lasted about five hours. The initial leaks came from the White House and CIA. They just couldn’t wait to brag and to claim credit. The facts were often wrong … Nonetheless the information just kept pouring out. I was outraged and at one point, told [the national security adviser, Tom] Donilon, ‘Why doesn’t everybody just shut the **** up?’ To no avail.

Obama’s speech was put together in a rush, the retired official said, and was viewed by his advisers as a political document, not a message that needed to be submitted for clearance to the national security bureaucracy. This series of self-serving and inaccurate statements would create chaos in the weeks following. Obama said that his administration had discovered that bin Laden was in Pakistan through ‘a possible lead’ the previous August; to many in the CIA the statement suggested a specific event, such as a walk-in. The remark led to a new cover story claiming that the CIA’s brilliant analysts had unmasked a courier network handling bin Laden’s continuing flow of operational orders to al-Qaida. Obama also praised ‘a small team of Americans’ for their care in avoiding civilian deaths and said: ‘After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.’ Two more details now had to be supplied for the cover story: a description of the firefight that never happened, and a story about what happened to the corpse. Obama went on to praise the Pakistanis: ‘It’s important to note that our counterterrorism co-operation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.’ That statement risked exposing Kayani and Pasha. The White House’s solution was to ignore what Obama had said and order anyone talking to the press to insist that the Pakistanis had played no role in killing bin Laden. Obama left the clear impression that he and his advisers hadn’t known for sure that bin Laden was in Abbottabad, but only had information ‘about the possibility’. This led first to the story that the Seals had determined they’d killed the right man by having a six-foot-tall Seal lie next to the corpse for comparison (bin Laden was known to be six foot four); and then to the claim that a DNA test had been performed on the corpse and demonstrated conclusively that the Seals had killed bin Laden. But, according to the retired official, it wasn’t clear from the Seals’ early reports whether all of bin Laden’s body, or any of it, made it back to Afghanistan.

Gates wasn’t the only official who was distressed by Obama’s decision to speak without clearing his remarks in advance, the retired official said, ‘but he was the only one protesting. Obama didn’t just double-cross Gates, he double-crossed everyone. This was not the fog of war. The fact that there was an agreement with the Pakistanis and no contingency analysis of what was to be disclosed if something went wrong – that wasn’t even discussed. And once it went wrong, they had to make up a new cover story on the fly.’ There was a legitimate reason for some deception: the role of the Pakistani walk-in had to be protected.



The White House press corps was told in a briefing shortly after Obama’s announcement that the death of bin Laden was ‘the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work’ that focused on tracking a group of couriers, including one who was known to be close to bin Laden. Reporters were told that a team of specially assembled CIA and National Security Agency analysts had traced the courier to a highly secure million-dollar compound in Abbottabad. After months of observation, the American intelligence community had ‘high confidence’ that a high-value target was living in the compound, and it was ‘assessed that there was a strong probability that [it] was Osama bin Laden’. The US assault team ran into a firefight on entering the compound and three adult males – two of them believed to be the couriers – were slain, along with bin Laden. Asked if bin Laden had defended himself, one of the briefers said yes: ‘He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight.’

The next day John Brennan, then Obama’s senior adviser for counterterrorism, had the task of talking up Obama’s valour while trying to smooth over the misstatements in his speech. He provided a more detailed but equally misleading account of the raid and its planning. Speaking on the record, which he rarely does, Brennan said that the mission was carried out by a group of Navy Seals who had been instructed to take bin Laden alive, if possible. He said the US had no information suggesting that anyone in the Pakistani government or military knew bin Laden’s whereabouts: ‘We didn’t contact the Pakistanis until after all of our people, all of our aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace.’ He emphasised the courage of Obama’s decision to order the strike, and said that the White House had no information ‘that confirmed that bin Laden was at the compound’ before the raid began. Obama, he said, ‘made what I believe was one of the gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory’. Brennan increased the number killed by the Seals inside the compound to five: bin Laden, a courier, his brother, a bin Laden son, and one of the women said to be shielding bin Laden.

Asked whether bin Laden had fired on the Seals, as some reporters had been told, Brennan repeated what would become a White House mantra: ‘He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know … Here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks … living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield … [It] just speaks to I think the nature of the individual he was.’

Gates also objected to the idea, pushed by Brennan and Leon Panetta, that US intelligence had learned of bin Laden’s whereabouts from information acquired by waterboarding and other forms of torture. ‘All of this is going on as the Seals are flying home from their mission. The agency guys know the whole story,’ the retired official said. ‘It was a group of annuitants who did it.’ (Annuitants are retired CIA officers who remain active on contract.) ‘They had been called in by some of the mission planners in the agency to help with the cover story. So the old-timers come in and say why not admit that we got some of the information about bin Laden from enhanced interrogation?’ At the time, there was still talk in Washington about the possible prosecution of CIA agents who had conducted torture.

‘Gates told them this was not going to work,’ the retired official said. ‘He was never on the team. He knew at the eleventh hour of his career not to be a party to this nonsense. But State, the agency and the Pentagon had bought in on the cover story. None of the Seals thought that Obama was going to get on national TV and announce the raid. The Special Forces command was apoplectic. They prided themselves on keeping operational security.’ There was fear in Special Operations, the retired official said, that ‘if the true story of the missions leaked out, the White House bureaucracy was going to blame it on the Seals.’

The White House’s solution was to silence the Seals. On 5 May, every member of the Seal hit team – they had returned to their base in southern Virginia – and some members of the Joint Special Operations Command leadership were presented with a nondisclosure form drafted by the White House’s legal office; it promised civil penalties and a lawsuit for anyone who discussed the mission, in public or private. ‘The Seals were not happy,’ the retired official said. But most of them kept quiet, as did Admiral William McRaven, who was then in charge of JSOC. ‘McRaven was apoplectic. He knew he was ****ed by the White House, but he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Seal, and not then a political operator, and he knew there’s no glory in blowing the whistle on the president. When Obama went public with bin Laden’s death, everyone had to scramble around for a new story that made sense, and the planners were stuck holding the bag.’

Within days, some of the early exaggerations and distortions had become obvious and the Pentagon issued a series of clarifying statements. No, bin Laden was not armed when he was shot and killed. And no, bin Laden did not use one of his wives as a shield. The press by and large accepted the explanation that the errors were the inevitable by-product of the White House’s desire to accommodate reporters frantic for details of the mission.

One lie that has endured is that the Seals had to fight their way to their target. Only two Seals have made any public statement: No Easy Day, a first-hand account of the raid by Matt Bissonnette, was published in September 2012; and two years later Rob O’Neill was interviewed by Fox News. Both men had resigned from the navy; both had fired at bin Laden. Their accounts contradicted each other on many details, but their stories generally supported the White House version, especially when it came to the need to kill or be killed as the Seals fought their way to bin Laden. O’Neill even told Fox News that he and his fellow Seals thought ‘We were going to die.’ ‘The more we trained on it, the more we realised … this is going to be a one-way mission.’

But the retired official told me that in their initial debriefings the Seals made no mention of a firefight, or indeed of any opposition. The drama and danger portrayed by Bissonnette and O’Neill met a deep-seated need, the retired official said: ‘Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen.’

There was another reason to claim there had been a firefight inside the compound, the retired official said: to avoid the inevitable question that would arise from an uncontested assault. Where were bin Laden’s guards? Surely, the most sought-after terrorist in the world would have around-the-clock protection. ‘And one of those killed had to be the courier, because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him. The Pakistanis had no choice but to play along with it.’ (Two days after the raid, Reuters published photographs of three dead men that it said it had purchased from an ISI official. Two of the men were later identified by an ISI spokesman as being the alleged courier and his brother.)

Five days after the raid the Pentagon press corps was provided with a series of videotapes that were said by US officials to have been taken from a large collection the Seals had removed from the compound, along with as many as 15 computers. Snippets from one of the videos showed a solitary bin Laden looking wan and wrapped in a blanket, watching what appeared to be a video of himself on television. An unnamed official told reporters that the raid produced a ‘treasure trove … the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever’, which would provide vital insights into al-Qaida’s plans. The official said the material showed that bin Laden ‘remained an active leader in al-Qaida, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group … He was far from a figurehead [and] continued to direct even tactical details of the group’s management and to encourage plotting’ from what was described as a command-and-control centre in Abbottabad. ‘He was an active player, making the recent operation even more essential for our nation’s security,’ the official said. The information was so vital, he added, that the administration was setting up an inter-agency task force to process it: ‘He was not simply someone who was penning al-Qaida strategy. He was throwing operational ideas out there and he was also specifically directing other al-Qaida members.’

These claims were fabrications: there wasn’t much activity for bin Laden to exercise command and control over. The retired intelligence official said that the CIA’s internal reporting shows that since bin Laden moved to Abbottabad in 2006 only a handful of terrorist attacks could be linked to the remnants of bin Laden’s al-Qaida. ‘We were told at first,’ the retired official said, ‘that the Seals produced garbage bags of stuff and that the community is generating daily intelligence reports out of this stuff. And then we were told that the community is gathering everything together and needs to translate it. But nothing has come of it. Every single thing they have created turns out not to be true. It’s a great hoax – like the Piltdown man.’ The retired official said that most of the materials from Abbottabad were turned over to the US by the Pakistanis, who later razed the building. The ISI took responsibility for the wives and children of bin Laden, none of whom was made available to the US for questioning.

‘Why create the treasure trove story?’ the retired official said. ‘The White House had to give the impression that bin Laden was still operationally important. Otherwise, why kill him? A cover story was created – that there was a network of couriers coming and going with memory sticks and instructions. All to show that bin Laden remained important.’

In July 2011, the Washington Post published what purported to be a summary of some of these materials. The story’s contradictions were glaring. It said the documents had resulted in more than four hundred intelligence reports within six weeks; it warned of unspecified al-Qaida plots; and it mentioned arrests of suspects ‘who are named or described in emails that bin Laden received’. The Post didn’t identify the suspects or reconcile that detail with the administration’s previous assertions that the Abbottabad compound had no internet connection. Despite their claims that the documents had produced hundreds of reports, the Post also quoted officials saying that their main value wasn’t the actionable intelligence they contained, but that they enabled ‘analysts to construct a more comprehensive portrait of al-Qaida’.

In May 2012, the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, a private research group, released translations it had made under a federal government contract of 175 pages of bin Laden documents. Reporters found none of the drama that had been touted in the days after the raid. Patrick Cockburn wrote about the contrast between the administration’s initial claims that bin Laden was the ‘spider at the centre of a conspiratorial web’ and what the translations actually showed: that bin Laden was ‘delusional’ and had ‘limited contact with the outside world outside his compound’.

The retired official disputed the authenticity of the West Point materials: ‘There is no linkage between these documents and the counterterrorism centre at the agency. No intelligence community analysis. When was the last time the CIA: 1) announced it had a significant intelligence find; 2) revealed the source; 3) described the method for processing the materials; 4) revealed the time-line for production; 5) described by whom and where the analysis was taking place, and 6) published the sensitive results before the information had been acted on? No agency professional would support this fairy tale.’

In June 2011, it was reported in the New York Times, the Washington Post and all over the Pakistani press that Amir Aziz had been held for questioning in Pakistan; he was, it was said, a CIA informant who had been spying on the comings and goings at the bin Laden compound. Aziz was released, but the retired official said that US intelligence was unable to learn who leaked the highly classified information about his involvement with the mission. Officials in Washington decided they ‘could not take a chance that Aziz’s role in obtaining bin Laden’s DNA also would become known’. A sacrificial lamb was needed, and the one chosen was Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old Pakistani doctor and sometime CIA asset, who had been arrested by the Pakistanis in late May and accused of assisting the agency. ‘We went to the Pakistanis and said go after Afridi,’ the retired official said. ‘We had to cover the whole issue of how we got the DNA.’ It was soon reported that the CIA had organised a fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad with Afridi’s help in a failed attempt to obtain bin Laden’s DNA. Afridi’s legitimate medical operation was run independently of local health authorities, was well financed and offered free vaccinations against hepatitis B. Posters advertising the programme were displayed throughout the area. Afridi was later accused of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison because of his ties to an extremist. News of the CIA-sponsored programme created widespread anger in Pakistan, and led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying.

The retired official said that Afridi had been recruited long before the bin Laden mission as part of a separate intelligence effort to get information about suspected terrorists in Abbottabad and the surrounding area. ‘The plan was to use vaccinations as a way to get the blood of terrorism suspects in the villages.’ Afridi made no attempt to obtain DNA from the residents of the bin Laden compound. The report that he did so was a hurriedly put together ‘CIA cover story creating “facts”’ in a clumsy attempt to protect Aziz and his real mission. ‘Now we have the consequences,’ the retired official said. ‘A great humanitarian project to do something meaningful for the peasants has been compromised as a cynical hoax.’ Afridi’s conviction was overturned, but he remains in prison on a murder charge.

In his address announcing the raid, Obama said that after killing bin Laden the Seals ‘took custody of his body’. The statement created a problem. In the initial plan it was to be announced a week or so after the fact that bin Laden was killed in a drone strike somewhere in the mountains on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and that his remains had been identified by DNA testing. But with Obama’s announcement of his killing by the Seals everyone now expected a body to be produced. Instead, reporters were told that bin Laden’s body had been flown by the Seals to an American military airfield in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and then straight to the USS Carl Vinson, a supercarrier on routine patrol in the North Arabian Sea. Bin Laden had then been buried at sea, just hours after his death. The press corps’s only sceptical moments at John Brennan’s briefing on 2 May were to do with the burial. The questions were short, to the point, and rarely answered. ‘When was the decision made that he would be buried at sea if killed?’ ‘Was this part of the plan all along?’ ‘Can you just tell us why that was a good idea?’ ‘John, did you consult a Muslim expert on that?’ ‘Is there a visual recording of this burial?’ When this last question was asked, Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, came to Brennan’s rescue: ‘We’ve got to give other people a chance here.’


‘We thought the best way to ensure that his body was given an appropriate Islamic burial,’ Brennan said, ‘was to take those actions that would allow us to do that burial at sea.’ He said ‘appropriate specialists and experts’ were consulted, and that the US military was fully capable of carrying out the burial ‘consistent with Islamic law’. Brennan didn’t mention that Muslim law calls for the burial service to be conducted in the presence of an imam, and there was no suggestion that one happened to be on board the Carl Vinson.

In a reconstruction of the bin Laden operation for Vanity Fair, Mark Bowden, who spoke to many senior administration officials, wrote that bin Laden’s body was cleaned and photographed at Jalalabad. Further procedures necessary for a Muslim burial were performed on the carrier, he wrote, ‘with bin Laden’s body being washed again and wrapped in a white shroud. A navy photographer recorded the burial in full sunlight, Monday morning, May 2.’ Bowden described the photos:

One frame shows the body wrapped in a weighted shroud. The next shows it lying diagonally on a chute, feet overboard. In the next frame the body is hitting the water. In the next it is visible just below the surface, ripples spreading outward. In the last frame there are only circular ripples on the surface. The mortal remains of Osama bin Laden were gone for good.

Bowden was careful not to claim that he had actually seen the photographs he described, and he recently told me he hadn’t seen them: ‘I’m always disappointed when I can’t look at something myself, but I spoke with someone I trusted who said he had seen them himself and described them in detail.’ Bowden’s statement adds to the questions about the alleged burial at sea, which has provoked a flood of Freedom of Information Act requests, most of which produced no information. One of them sought access to the photographs. The Pentagon responded that a search of all available records had found no evidence that any photographs had been taken of the burial. Requests on other issues related to the raid were equally unproductive. The reason for the lack of response became clear after the Pentagon held an inquiry into allegations that the Obama administration had provided access to classified materials to the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty. The Pentagon report, which was put online in June 2013, noted that Admiral McRaven had ordered the files on the raid to be deleted from all military computers and moved to the CIA, where they would be shielded from FOIA requests by the agency’s ‘operational exemption’.

McRaven’s action meant that outsiders could not get access to the Carl Vinson’s unclassified logs. Logs are sacrosanct in the navy, and separate ones are kept for air operations, the deck, the engineering department, the medical office, and for command information and control. They show the sequence of events day by day aboard the ship; if there has been a burial at sea aboard the Carl Vinson, it would have been recorded.

There wasn’t any gossip about a burial among the Carl Vinson’s sailors. The carrier concluded its six-month deployment in June 2011. When the ship docked at its home base in Coronado, California, Rear Admiral Samuel Perez, commander of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, told reporters that the crew had been ordered not to talk about the burial. Captain Bruce Lindsey, skipper of the Carl Vinson, told reporters he was unable to discuss it. Cameron Short, one of the crew of the Carl Vinson, told the Commercial-News of Danville, Illinois, that the crew had not been told anything about the burial. ‘All he knows is what he’s seen on the news,’ the newspaper reported.

The Pentagon did release a series of emails to the Associated Press. In one of them, Rear Admiral Charles Gaouette reported that the service followed ‘traditional procedures for Islamic burial’, and said none of the sailors on board had been permitted to observe the proceedings. But there was no indication of who washed and wrapped the body, or of which Arabic speaker conducted the service.

Within weeks of the raid, I had been told by two longtime consultants to Special Operations Command, who have access to current intelligence, that the funeral aboard the Carl Vinson didn’t take place. One consultant told me that bin Laden’s remains were photographed and identified after being flown back to Afghanistan. The consultant added: ‘At that point, the CIA took control of the body. The cover story was that it had been flown to the Carl Vinson.’ The second consultant agreed that there had been ‘no burial at sea’. He added that ‘the killing of bin Laden was political theatre designed to burnish Obama’s military credentials … The Seals should have expected the political grandstanding. It’s irresistible to a politician. Bin Laden became a working asset.’ Early this year, speaking again to the second consultant, I returned to the burial at sea. The consultant laughed and said: ‘You mean, he didn’t make it to the water?’

The retired official said there had been another complication: some members of the Seal team had bragged to colleagues and others that they had torn bin Laden’s body to pieces with rifle fire. The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains – or so the Seals claimed. At the time, the retired official said, the Seals did not think their mission would be made public by Obama within a few hours: ‘If the president had gone ahead with the cover story, there would have been no need to have a funeral within hours of the killing. Once the cover story was blown, and the death was made public, the White House had a serious “Where’s the body?” problem. The world knew US forces had killed bin Laden in Abbottabad. Panic city. What to do? We need a “functional body” because we have to be able to say we identified bin Laden via a DNA analysis. It would be navy officers who came up with the “burial at sea” idea. Perfect. No body. Honourable burial following sharia law. Burial is made public in great detail, but Freedom of Information documents confirming the burial are denied for reasons of “national security”. It’s the classic unravelling of a poorly constructed cover story – it solves an immediate problem but, given the slightest inspection, there is no back-up support. There never was a plan, initially, to take the body to sea, and no burial of bin Laden at sea took place.’ The retired official said that if the Seals’ first accounts are to be believed, there wouldn’t have been much left of bin Laden to put into the sea in any case.


It was inevitable that the Obama administration’s lies, misstatements and betrayals would create a backlash. ‘We’ve had a four-year lapse in co-operation,’ the retired official said. ‘It’s taken that long for the Pakistanis to trust us again in the military-to-military counterterrorism relationship – while terrorism was rising all over the world … They felt Obama sold them down the river. They’re just now coming back because the threat from Isis, which is now showing up there, is a lot greater and the bin Laden event is far enough away to enable someone like General Durrani to come out and talk about it.’ Generals Pasha and Kayani have retired and both are reported to be under investigation for corruption during their time in office.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s long-delayed report on CIA torture, released last December, documented repeated instances of official lying, and suggested that the CIA’s knowledge of bin Laden’s courier was sketchy at best and predated its use of waterboarding and other forms of torture. The report led to international headlines about brutality and waterboarding, along with gruesome details about rectal feeding tubes, ice baths and threats to rape or murder family members of detainees who were believed to be withholding information. Despite the bad publicity, the report was a victory for the CIA. Its major finding – that the use of torture didn’t lead to discovering the truth – had already been the subject of public debate for more than a decade. Another key finding – that the torture conducted was more brutal than Congress had been told – was risible, given the extent of public reporting and published exposés by former interrogators and retired CIA officers. The report depicted tortures that were obviously contrary to international law as violations of rules or ‘inappropriate activities’ or, in some cases, ‘management failures’. Whether the actions described constitute war crimes was not discussed, and the report did not suggest that any of the CIA interrogators or their superiors should be investigated for criminal activity. The agency faced no meaningful consequences as a result of the report.

The retired official told me that the CIA leadership had become experts in derailing serious threats from Congress: ‘They create something that is horrible but not that bad. Give them something that sounds terrible. “Oh my God, we were shoving food up a prisoner’s ass!” Meanwhile, they’re not telling the committee about murders, other war crimes, and secret prisons like we still have in Diego Garcia. The goal also was to stall it as long as possible, which they did.’

The main theme of the committee’s 499-page executive summary is that the CIA lied systematically about the effectiveness of its torture programme in gaining intelligence that would stop future terrorist attacks in the US. The lies included some vital details about the uncovering of an al-Qaida operative called Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was said to be the key al-Qaida courier, and the subsequent tracking of him to Abbottabad in early 2011. The agency’s alleged intelligence, patience and skill in finding al-Kuwaiti became legend after it was dramatised in Zero Dark Thirty.

The Senate report repeatedly raised questions about the quality and reliability of the CIA’s intelligence about al-Kuwaiti. In 2005 an internal CIA report on the hunt for bin Laden noted that ‘detainees provide few actionable leads, and we have to consider the possibility that they are creating fictitious characters to distract us or to absolve themselves of direct knowledge about bin Ladin [sic].’ A CIA cable a year later stated that ‘we have had no success in eliciting actionable intelligence on bin Laden’s location from any detainees.’ The report also highlighted several instances of CIA officers, including Panetta, making false statements to Congress and the public about the value of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in the search for bin Laden’s couriers.

Obama today is not facing re-election as he was in the spring of 2011. His principled stand on behalf of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran says much, as does his decision to operate without the support of the conservative Republicans in Congress. High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.
 

J. Abizeid

Well-Known Member

Seymour Hersh Details Explosive Story on Bin Laden Killing & Responds to White House, Media Backlash

Four years after U.S. forces assassinated Osama bin Laden, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has published an explosive piece claiming much of what the Obama administration said about the attack was wrong. Hersh claims at the time of the U.S. raid bin Laden had been held as a prisoner by Pakistani intelligence since 2006. Top Pakistani military leaders knew about the operation and provided key assistance. Contrary to U.S. claims that it located bin Laden by tracking his courier, a former Pakistani intelligence officer identified bin Laden’s whereabouts in return for the bulk of a $25 million U.S. bounty. Questions are also raised about whether bin Laden was actually buried at sea, as the U.S. claimed. Hersh says instead the Navy SEALs threw parts of bin Laden’s body into the Hindu Kush mountains from their helicopter. The White House claims the piece is "riddled with inaccuracies." Hersh joins us to lay out his findings and respond to criticism from government officials and media colleagues.


Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: Four years ago this month, President Obama announced U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden in a raid on his hideout in Pakistan.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: At my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

AARON MATÉ: But now a new investigation says the official story is a lie. In an explosive report, the veteran journalist Seymour Hersh alleges a vast deception on everything from how bin Laden was found to how he was killed. According to Hersh, Pakistan detained bin Laden in 2006 and kept him prisoner with the backing of Saudi Arabia. In 2010, a Pakistani intelligence officer disclosed bin Laden’s location to the CIA. Hersh says the U.S. and Pakistan then struck a deal: The U.S. would raid bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, but make it look as if Pakistan was unaware. In fact, Hersh says, top Pakistani military leaders provided key help.

AMY GOODMAN: The report also challenges the initial U.S. account of how bin Laden was killed. Hersh says there was never a firefight inside the compound and that bin Laden himself was not armed. Questions are also raised about whether bin Laden was actually buried at sea as the U.S. claimed. Hersh says, instead, the Navy SEALs threw parts of bin Laden’s body into the Hindu Kush mountains from their helicopter. The White House has rejected Hersh’s account of the bin Laden raid. Press Secretary Josh Earnest spoke to reporters on Monday.

PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST: I can tell you that the Obama White House is not the only one to observe that the story is riddled with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods. The former deputy director of the CIA, Mike Morell, has said that every sentence was wrong. And, Jim, I actually thought one of your colleagues at CNN put it best: Peter Bergen, a security analyst for CNN, described the story as being about 10,000 words in length, and he said, based on reading it, that what’s true in the story isn’t new, and what’s new in the story isn’t true. So I thought that was a pretty good way of describing why no one here is particularly concerned about it.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, White House national security spokesperson Ned Price said, quote, "There are too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions in this piece ... to fact check each one. ... [T]he notion that the operation that killed Usama Bin Ladin was anything but a unilateral U.S. mission is patently false," he said. But despite the White House denials, none of its statements have addressed Hersh’s specific allegations.

Meanwhile, other reporting is beginning to corroborate some key elements. According to NBC News, three intelligence sources have backed Hersh’s claim that the U.S. heard about bin Laden’s location when a Pakistani officer told the CIA. The U.S. has said it helped find bin Laden by tracking his personal courier, which Hersh says is a ruse. The NBC sources also backed Hersh’s contention that the Pakistani government knew all along where bin Laden was hiding.

Well, for more, we go directly to Seymour Hersh, whose 10,000-word article, "The Killing of Osama bin Laden," appears online at the London Review of Books. It’s Hersh’s latest major investigation in a body of work spanning decades. He won the Pulitzer Prize for exposing the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when U.S. forces killed hundreds of civilians. In 2004, Seymour Hersh broke the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

Seymour Hersh, welcome to Democracy Now! Why don’t you, in your own words, describe what it is that you found?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you guys did a pretty good job. Basically, you covered the tracks. Basically, I think you can say, simply, that the president, as he said on television when he announced the raid, did order the raid, and the SEAL Team Six, the most elite unit we have in our special forces group, they did conduct a mission. They did kill bin Laden. They did take the body. That’s all true. And the rest of it is sort of hooey.

AARON MATÉ: Can we talk about what seems to be the most shocking claim: Pakistan finding bin Laden in 2006 and the U.S. not finding out until 2010, when you allege a Pakistani officer told the U.S., and meanwhile, Saudi Arabia backing and paying for bin Laden’s imprisonment. This seems very improbable, involving hundreds, thousands of officials in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and then the U.S.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Where do you get the notion of hundred or thousand officials? We’re talking about a closed society. The White House has a lot of control over the information. The senior Pakistani officials have control over the information. We are talking about a country that went, a dozen or 10 years ago, through a WMD sort of cover-up. The notion that there’s some major conspiracy I’m alleging is just sort of—that’s over the top. There’s no major conspiracy here. It’s very easy to control news. We all saw that when—the whole thing about Saddam Hussein and the alleged nuclear weapons. I should think that would be a model for why you might just not be so skeptical of the possibility of holding things. And let me also say, in the piece, it’s not so much that I’m saying what happened. I’m quoting sources. And of course they’re unnamed. You just announced what happened to Jeffrey Sterling today. I mean, what reporter would want to name a source in this administration. You know, bam! He’d be gone. So, there you are.

What simply happened is, at a certain critical point, we had a walk-in. We were very angry about it, the United States. Pakistan is our ally. And underneath all of this, you have to understand something, which I’m sure you do. Just to tell the audience, Pakistan has, what, one, 200, maybe more—they’re still making, producing enriched uranium, etc., etc. And they have a great deal of nuclear weapons. I mean, I would guess they’re up to 200 now. It was 100 a half a decade ago. And so, we have to have comity between the ranking American generals and the ranking Pakistani generals. This is something very important to us. The Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, helps train the people who guard the weapons. We work with Pakistan very closely to watch out—literally, with them—to monitor the people who are in control of the weapons, to make sure nobody is a secret nationalist or a secret jihadist who might grab a weapon and do something crazy with it. That’s a serious, big issue that’s sort of under—that’s behind the whole relationship. We give Pakistan a lot of money through Congress over the table, and we give a lot of money to the leadership under the table. So we have a great deal of—and we also understand Pakistan has its own agenda.

And so, '06, they did grab bin Laden; ’010, we learn about it. We're angry. We don’t tell the Paks we know right away. We begin looking at Abbottabad, where he’s located. We start observing him. This has been reported. We set up a team in a nearby house, mostly foreign nationals and Pakistanis who work with us, to monitor the house. We go to the president. The community goes—intelligence community goes to the president with the information about the walk-in. Any guy that wants to sell information for money is automatically suspect, so you have to be careful. The president is appropriately very cautious, very cautious. He’s not going to make a move. He doesn’t want to end up like Jimmy Carter in the desert, you know, 1980, you know, that failed attempt to rescue the American hostages, which hurt him politically terribly. It’s a year before an election. He’s not very popular in America. Not much is going right. He’s in a constant fight with Congress, etc., etc., etc.

So, we determine the only way we can be sure that we’ve got the right guy and that this will work is we have to go to the Pakistanis. So we go to the leadership—General Kayani, who’s the head of the army, and General Pasha, who’s the head of the internal—what they call the ISI, Inter-Services Intelligence unit, the counterpart to the CIA. We go to those people. We lay out our case. We make it clear that a lot of goodies are going to be cut off. There’s F-16s that are in the pipeline. We’re going to slow it down. We’re going to slow down congressional money, etc., etc. They have very little option. OK, they start working with us. We set up a four-man team in a place called Tarbela Ghazi.

These are all details that—this is a 10,000-word article. I mean, this is a lot of information in this article. We set up a team—none of which the White House is responding to; instead are just saying—they keep on saying, "It’s so many falsehoods, we can’t correct it." And, by the way, the last time I—quoting Peter Bergen—I don’t know the guy. I’m sure he believes what he believes. But the last time the White House actually quoted a reporter in the way they did would have been **** Cheney quoting a story by Judy Miller and Mike Gordon in The New York Times at the height of the WMD crisis about the tubes that allegedly could be used for making—delivering nuclear weapons, a story that they had planted in The New York Times and then Cheney on 60 Minutes goes and uses that story as a—to buttress the argument. We know that. That seems to me to really—just get on with it, White House. Just start denying specifics.

Four-man team in Ghazi, Ghazi Tarbela, a very important base in Pakistan. A lot of black operations are run with us and the Pakistanis out of it. It’s not that well known. There’s an airbase there, but there’s also a covert unit. The Pakistanis also train most of the guards who monitor and watch over the nuclear weapons there. So it’s a—we’re there. We’re getting—our team is collecting data on the place in Abbottabad, where bin Laden—you can call him a prisoner, under the supervision. There were steel doors leading to his apartment that were locked. He was on the third floor of this complex there. There were a number of buildings in the compound. And we have great detail. We’re learning how thick the steel is, how much dynamite you need to blow it, how many steps are going, who else is there. This is all being passed by the Pakistanis to us.

The whole game, and the whole crux of the story I’m writing, is that nothing was supposed to be made public after the raid. The SEALs were supposed to go in—and you have to understand, we’re talking about two Black Hawks full of SEALs, packed to the brim. SEALs basically are better off with eight to 10 people, and they had 12 in each of them. They were—the plane was stripped down. They were coming in heavy. And 24 SEALs going into a compound where, presumably, if it was a secret raid, there would be somebody with arms. Certainly, if Pakistan itself wasn’t guarding it with armed people, bin Laden would have armed guards, because he’s a man that a lot of people want to get to. They’re going in—just repelling down was the plan, you know, perfect targets for anybody with a BB gun. And they’re going to go in like that without any air cover? It’s a story that it is—and bin Laden, the most hunted man in the world at that time, since 2001, he was number one international terrorist. He’s going to hide out in a compound—Abbottabad is sort of a resort town—in a resort town 40 miles or so outside of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, within a mile or two of Pakistan’s West Point, where they train young officers, the army does, and a couple of miles from a regimental headquarters full of army troops. He’s going to hide out there? I mean, as I wrote in the article, it’s a Lewis Carroll story. It just doesn’t—it doesn’t sustain any credibility, if you look at it objectively.

And so, the deal was it was not to be announced. We were going to go kill the guy. That was, of course, the mission. That’s why the president had to talk about a firefight. There was no firefight. They’ve actually acknowledged that within a few days of the raid, the White House did. Bin Laden did not have an AK and wasn’t being—cowering behind some woman, as was initially said. There was—the point being that, as I write very carefully in this article, seven to 10 days after the body—the killing was done and the body was taken away, we were going to announce, the White House—the president, himself, was going to announce that a drone raid somewhere in the Hindu Kush mountain area—you know, Waziristan, it’s not clear, it was going to be vague as to whether it was—that’s the area that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan, mountain area. It was going to be vague as to which country this took place in. Somewhere in that border area, a drone raid hit a building. We sent in a team to look at it. There was a tall guy that looked like bin Laden. We took some pictures, some DNA. My god, we got him. That was the announcement. That protects everybody. Pasha and Kayani are working with us, and nobody has to know it.

Why are they worried about being told? At one point in the last six or seven years, 8 percent—that’s the popularity of America in Pakistan, was 8 percent. Bin Laden was hugely popular. If it was known to the public that Pasha and Kayani, the two leading generals, had worked with us to kill the guy, they would be in real trouble. They’d have to move to Dubai or have armed guards.

So, once the president did it—this was done without notice. And I’m—of course, as the—you quoted some officer saying it was unilateral. It was all American. Yes, Pakistanis were not involved in a raid. Our SEALs were. And so, I wish—as you said in the intro, Amy, the denials are all sort of non-denials.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, before we get to the denials, with your sequence of events, you say they killed him, Obama didn’t plan to announce it right away. What happened? And what happened to Osama bin Laden’s body, according to your account?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Yes. You have to understand this is caveated in my article. What I said was that the SEALs initially reported that—first, they put a lot more bullets in it than has been publicly said, not in the head, but in the body. There were six SEALs. SEALs work—SEALs are funny. They work in teams of six because that’s how many fit into a dinghy, although, God knows, since this war began, the war on terror, the American SEALs don’t go near the water very much, which is a source of great annoyance to them. They’re no longer water people; they’re just regular ground guys. The initial account—and I do have access to people who had access to it. I’m sorry I have these sources. I just do. And I’m sorry other reporters don’t, but I just do, and that’s just the way it is. And they did talk about throwing out parts of the body over the Hindu Kush mountains from the chopper, because it was shot up pretty badly. The head was intact.

Anyway—and, by the way, if you think about the sequence I’m telling you, that you’re going to find another bin Laden somewhere, you don’t need the body. The only reason they took the body, they needed to take the body, is because the Pakistanis wanted it out of there. They didn’t want anybody to know anything about this. And we just followed their orders. And so, what happened is, that night—you know, it’s funny, I remember this vividly. Around 9:00, I think it was, CNN or somebody began to report it on the night that the raid was announced. The night of the raid, after its success, there was reports that something had happened to bin Laden, something was coming very quickly. Two-and-a-half-hour debate, two and a half hours of—as I understand, the debate was simply with a lot of people around Obama saying you cannot trust this story to be kept for seven to 10 days. Among other things, the secretary of defense, Bob Gates, who had been very critical of the plan, very, very critical, as he wrote in his memoir, very upset about what happened, they just—he might start talking, somebody might start talking, they’d start blabbing, and you lose the edge, Mr. President. This is re-election time, and presidents do strange things before re-elections—often strange things. We know that.

And so, Obama delivered a speech that was written by his political people and not cleared by the national security team. It was a speech with—I can’t begin to tell you Obama’s state of mind. As far as I know, he got a speech, he believed everything he read. He was—you know, he’s getting briefings. He believed what he was read. I’m not accusing him of lying. But what happened, what was said was a lie. And in the speech, he laid down the foundation for an enormous scramble over the next weeks, that the next days and weeks they had to recreate a new story. He said, as you said in the introduction, there was a firefight, and Obama was—and bin Laden was killed in it. That’s to cover the idea that it was an out-and-out murder. And he said also, in the fight, that—he also said that a treasure trove of material was recovered. We have yet to see it, and I raise a lot of questions about what was covered, what was collected. At one point, the SEALs were said to have taken 15 computers out of there. But if you read everything that was written, it also was written and said many times there was no Internet connection in Abbottabad. There was no sign of any operational capability of bin Laden at all. And one of the problems with the—protecting the walk-in, when you—you had to protect the walk-in. One of the reasons you didn’t want to talk about a walk-in was you don’t do that. And so, we had to protect that—

AMY GOODMAN: You mean the guy who revealed to the U.S., walking into the U.S. Embassy.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Yeah. Yeah, they call him a walk-in. And the president actually said in his speech, we had a lead in—he said we had a lead in August of 2010, which, really, for a lot of people in the intelligence community, that was too close to the mark. A lead means something specific happened then, and that’s when the walk-in went to see a guy named Jonathan Banks, the station chief, a very competent guy from everything I hear; the station chief for the CIA in Islamabad. And we had to call in—lie detector people from Washington had to fly in to debrief the guy and conclude he was telling the truth. It was a big piece of evidence. Anyway, but you have to get around that story, so you create the courier story, that the CIA, with brilliant work—and initially they wanted to say through enhanced interrogation—found out about a courier who led them to bin Laden. That is such a—that is really an outrageous story, and they sold it to a movie called No Easy—what was it?

AMY GOODMAN: Zero Dark Thirty?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Zero DarkZero Dark—that was the thesis of the movie. It also included the torture element. Absolutely not so. What happened is we had a guy walk in. NBC—NBC last night about 6:00 put out that story saying it, and you hardly saw it today. There was a piece I read in The New York Times this morning that didn’t deign to mention that an independent network had confirmed one of the major elements, not only a walk-in, but it raises questions about the couriers that they talk so much about. And so, it’s not—

AMY GOODMAN: Sy—go ahead.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Let me just say this. Here’s my theory about this. You know, there’s been a—in Europe and the rest of the world, they’re more open-minded, more willing to say, "Oh, terrible things happen." In America, I think, one of the problems with the press—and this is just a heuristic thinking, there’s nothing empirical about what I’m saying—I think one of the things that’s got them so agitated—people were writing stories accusing me of plagiarism in the press in the last two days. You know, Politico, which does great stuff, has a blog in which they said this sort of wacky stuff. A 10,000-word article that’s plagiarized? Anyway, I think there’s a sense that everybody bought into the story. Everybody bought into the story after 9/11. The White House had it going. They had the press begging for more information. Briefings were given. The stories initially had—if you remember the initial stories, they had bin Laden ready with an AK, and they were shooting in the doorway, etc. The only firing that came across in the first wave of after-action reports was a stray bullet apparently hit a woman in the leg who was screaming, either before or after the bullet hit her, I don’t know. But there was no murder in the—you know, there was no killing of people in the courtyard. If there had been a gun in the courtyard, if anybody had had a gun in the courtyard, it was cleared by the—Pakistani intelligence cleared all of the guards out before the SEALs landed. If anybody had a gun in the courtyard, the SEALs wouldn’t have gone near the courtyard the way it did, just flying in, you know, like in a World War II movie. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Sy, we have to break, but we’re going to come back to this discussion.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. His latest piece in the London Review of Books is headlined "The Killing of Osama bin Laden." It tells a very different story than the one we were told in the United States by President Obama. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté. Our guest is Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist who just published a piece in the London Review of Books called "The Killing of Osama bin Laden." It tells a very different story than President Obama told the United States after Obama—after Osama bin Laden was killed.

AARON MATÉ: This morning on CNN, Philip Mudd, CNN’s counterterrorism analyst, discussed Sy Hersh’s reporting.

PHILIP MUDD: The assertion is not that somebody down the chain in the Pakistani military or security services might have known something. The assertion is that senior Pakistani generals, including the head of the security service, knew for years. So while that security service was losing officers in the fight against al-Qaeda, they were also at the same time secretly sheltering the head of al-Qaeda. I mean, let me break some news for you this morning: Aliens abducted President Obama 15 minutes ago, and Darth Vader is in the Oval Office making decisions for the United States. I have a secret source who told me that. Why don’t we publish? This is nonsense. This is just ridiculous.

AARON MATÉ: That’s Philip Mudd of CNN. Sy Hersh, do you want to respond to that? Darth Vader in the White House.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, of course not. I don’t care.

AARON MATÉ: OK, well, then, let me—

SEYMOUR HERSH: I mean, that’s—I mean, look, that’s childish. The reality is, the Pakistanis told—there were meetings between the head of the Pakistani intelligence service, General Pasha, and Leon Panetta, that I write about. And I write about them based on—well, you have to read the article to find out. I write about them very carefully. One of the questions always asked is: Why did you do this to us? And particularly, why bring in the Saudis? What happened is, the Pakistanis, as some of you may know, are very close to Saudi Arabia. There’s always been a chronic fear that the great Islamic bomb—at some point, Pakistan might even give the Saudis a bomb. That’s been written about constantly. That’s a great concern. We really have a serious concern about maintaining great relations with—they’re very good right now with us and the Pakistani military, anyway.

And so, the answer that was given, I’ll just tell you exactly what it was. The way they explained it is, first of all, the—they went to—they told the Saudis, and the Saudis immediately said, "Do not tell the Americans about him." Why? And I can only give you the obvious reason that was given, because the last thing Saudi Arabia wants is the United States to begin interrogating Osama bin Laden and discover who might have been giving him money—which sheikh, where—in Saudi Arabia in '01 and ’02, and before or even after. That's not completely illogical.

The second reason, of course, is, once the Pakistanis have bin Laden, they have leverage. They can let both the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan know that they have him. They can let the jihadists in both countries also know that they have him. And they get leverage. They can make it clear to both those groups: You have to talk to us more than you do. We want to know more about what’s going on, or we’ll string this guy up. That’s all—that was the explanation given. Nobody liked it, but there was an understanding that Pakistan has its own point of view about the world, and it isn’t always the same as ours. So we accepted it. We had not much choice. We wanted their help. But so, it’s not a question of Darth Vader and sort of silly talk like that. This is serious stuff I’m talking about. This is the president of the United States, if not knowing the wrong information was given, certainly countenancing it, in fact sending it—triggering a whole sequence of lies that had to be—a whole story had to be recreated.

And nobody is talking about what I wrote about this poor Dr. Afridi, the one that’s now in jail on charges—he was convicted of treason, reviewed and now in jail on charges of murder for 33 years or something like that. This is the guy that was going around in—providing vaccinations for various kinds of illnesses, hepatitis, I think, among them. I don’t think it was polio, but he was providing that kind of service to the community. A physician, and he was also an asset of the CIA, and we were so worried, in America, that the story about—we got DNA via the Pakistanis before the end of—before 2010. You needed DNA. You needed the Pakistanis to get into Abbottabad to get into and take some DNA from bin Laden—we had other samples from his family—and make sure—the president wanted to know that was really bin Laden. And so, a doctor, a Pakistani doctor, had—was assigned to—his name was [Aziz]. Amir [Aziz] was assigned to move next door to the house in Abbottabad. In fact, journalists, after the raid, found his name in Urdu on a doorplate in one of the houses next to it. They had to protect Aziz, and so they created a story, the CIA in their wisdom, that Afridi was the one that went in and tried to get into the compound to take—unsuccessfully, to take—to get a DNA sample from bin Laden, which of course led to a huge outcry against the idea that the Western intelligence, media, the CIA and the Brits, also often criticized for the same way, are behind some of the vaccination programs. This is a belief that’s certainly prevalent in Africa. And we had tremendously adverse consequences for the health of—

AMY GOODMAN: Sy, we have 10 seconds.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, the implications for the health and well-being of a lot of people are pretty negative from this, a very dumb move by the CIA. These are all things to be considered. It’s not a Darth Vader moment, I’m sorry to say.

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, we want to thank you for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist in Washington, D.C.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll link to your piece in the London Review of Books called "The Killing of Osama bin Laden."
 

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Seymour M. Hersh · The Killing of Osama bin Laden · LRB 21 May 2015

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Seymour M. Hersh


It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she’d been told by a ‘Pakistani official’ that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he’d spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who – reflecting a widely held local view – asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was ‘quite possible’ that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, ‘but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.’

This spring I contacted Durrani and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources: that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006; that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false.

‘When your version comes out – if you do it – people in Pakistan will be tremendously grateful,’ Durrani told me. ‘For a long time people have stopped trusting what comes out about bin Laden from the official mouths. There will be some negative political comment and some anger, but people like to be told the truth, and what you’ve told me is essentially what I have heard from former colleagues who have been on a fact-finding mission since this episode.’ As a former ISI head, he said, he had been told shortly after the raid by ‘people in the “strategic community” who would know’ that there had been an informant who had alerted the US to bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, and that after his killing the US’s betrayed promises left Kayani and Pasha exposed.

The major US source for the account that follows is a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. He also was privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid, and to the various after-action reports. Two other US sources, who had access to corroborating information, have been longtime consultants to the Special Operations Command. I also received information from inside Pakistan about widespread dismay among the senior ISI and military leadership – echoed later by Durrani – over Obama’s decision to go public immediately with news of bin Laden’s death. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

It began with a walk-in. In August 2010 a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, then the CIA’s station chief at the US embassy in Islamabad. He offered to tell the CIA where to find bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001. Walk-ins are assumed by the CIA to be unreliable, and the response from the agency’s headquarters was to fly in a polygraph team. The walk-in passed the test. ‘So now we’ve got a lead on bin Laden living in a compound in Abbottabad, but how do we really know who it is?’ was the CIA’s worry at the time, the retired senior US intelligence official told me.

The US initially kept what it knew from the Pakistanis. ‘The fear was that if the existence of the source was made known, the Pakistanis themselves would move bin Laden to another location. So only a very small number of people were read into the source and his story,’ the retired official said. ‘The CIA’s first goal was to check out the quality of the informant’s information.’ The compound was put under satellite surveillance. The CIA rented a house in Abbottabad to use as a forward observation base and staffed it with Pakistani employees and foreign nationals. Later on, the base would serve as a contact point with the ISI; it attracted little attention because Abbottabad is a holiday spot full of houses rented on short leases. A psychological profile of the informant was prepared. (The informant and his family were smuggled out of Pakistan and relocated in the Washington area. He is now a consultant for the CIA.)


‘By October the military and intelligence community were discussing the possible military options. Do we drop a bunker buster on the compound or take him out with a drone strike? Perhaps send someone to kill him, single assassin style? But then we’d have no proof of who he was,’ the retired official said. ‘We could see some guy is walking around at night, but we have no intercepts because there’s no commo coming from the compound.’

In October, Obama was briefed on the intelligence. His response was cautious, the retired official said. ‘It just made no sense that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad. It was just too crazy. The president’s position was emphatic: “Don’t talk to me about this any more unless you have proof that it really is bin Laden.”’ The immediate goal of the CIA leadership and the Joint Special Operations Command was to get Obama’s support. They believed they would get this if they got DNA evidence, and if they could assure him that a night assault of the compound would carry no risk. The only way to accomplish both things, the retired official said, ‘was to get the Pakistanis on board’.

During the late autumn of 2010, the US continued to keep quiet about the walk-in, and Kayani and Pasha continued to insist to their American counterparts that they had no information about bin Laden’s whereabouts. ‘The next step was to figure out how to ease Kayani and Pasha into it – to tell them that we’ve got intelligence showing that there is a high-value target in the compound, and to ask them what they know about the target,’ the retired official said. ‘The compound was not an armed enclave – no machine guns around, because it was under ISI control.’ The walk-in had told the US that bin Laden had lived undetected from 2001 to 2006 with some of his wives and children in the Hindu Kush mountains, and that ‘the ISI got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him.’ (Reports after the raid placed him elsewhere in Pakistan during this period.) Bank was also told by the walk-in that bin Laden was very ill, and that early on in his confinement at Abbottabad, the ISI had ordered Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army, to move nearby to provide treatment. ‘The truth is that bin Laden was an invalid, but we cannot say that,’ the retired official said. ‘“You mean you guys shot a cripple? Who was about to grab his AK-47?”’

‘It didn’t take long to get the co-operation we needed, because the Pakistanis wanted to ensure the continued release of American military aid, a good percentage of which was anti-terrorism funding that finances personal security, such as bullet-proof limousines and security guards and housing for the ISI leadership,’ the retired official said. He added that there were also under-the-table personal ‘incentives’ that were financed by off-the-books Pentagon contingency funds. ‘The intelligence community knew what the Pakistanis needed to agree – there was the carrot. And they chose the carrot. It was a win-win. We also did a little blackmail. We told them we would leak the fact that you’ve got bin Laden in your backyard. We knew their friends and enemies’ – the Taliban and jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan – ‘would not like it.’

A worrying factor at this early point, according to the retired official, was Saudi Arabia, which had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. ‘The Saudis didn’t want bin Laden’s presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaida. And they were dropping money – lots of it. The Pakistanis, in turn, were concerned that the Saudis might spill the beans about their control of bin Laden. The fear was that if the US found out about bin Laden from Riyadh, all hell would break out. The Americans learning about bin Laden’s imprisonment from a walk-in was not the worst thing.’

Despite their constant public feuding, American and Pakistani military and intelligence services have worked together closely for decades on counterterrorism in South Asia. Both services often find it useful to engage in public feuds ‘to cover their asses’, as the retired official put it, but they continually share intelligence used for drone attacks, and co-operate on covert operations. At the same time, it’s understood in Washington that elements of the ISI believe that maintaining a relationship with the Taliban leadership inside Afghanistan is essential to national security. The ISI’s strategic aim is to balance Indian influence in Kabul; the Taliban is also seen in Pakistan as a source of jihadist shock troops who would back Pakistan against India in a confrontation over Kashmir.

Adding to the tension was the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, often depicted in the Western press as an ‘Islamic bomb’ that might be transferred by Pakistan to an embattled nation in the Middle East in the event of a crisis with Israel. The US looked the other way when Pakistan began building its weapons system in the 1970s and it’s widely believed it now has more than a hundred nuclear warheads. It’s understood in Washington that US security depends on the maintenance of strong military and intelligence ties to Pakistan. The belief is mirrored in Pakistan.

‘The Pakistani army sees itself as family,’ the retired official said. ‘Officers call soldiers their sons and all officers are “brothers”. The attitude is different in the American military. The senior Pakistani officers believe they are the elite and have got to look out for all of the people, as keepers of the flame against Muslim fundamentalism. The Pakistanis also know that their trump card against aggression from India is a strong relationship with the United States. They will never cut their person-to-person ties with us.’

Like all CIA station chiefs, Bank was working undercover, but that ended in early December 2010 when he was publicly accused of murder in a criminal complaint filed in Islamabad by Karim Khan, a Pakistani journalist whose son and brother, according to local news reports, had been killed by a US drone strike. Allowing Bank to be named was a violation of diplomatic protocol on the part of the Pakistani authorities, and it brought a wave of unwanted publicity. Bank was ordered to leave Pakistan by the CIA, whose officials subsequently told the Associated Press he was transferred because of concerns for his safety. The New York Times reported that there was ‘strong suspicion’ the ISI had played a role in leaking Bank’s name to Khan. There was speculation that he was outed as payback for the publication in a New York lawsuit a month earlier of the names of ISI chiefs in connection with the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008. But there was a collateral reason, the retired official said, for the CIA’s willingness to send Bank back to America. The Pakistanis needed cover in case their co-operation with the Americans in getting rid of bin Laden became known. The Pakistanis could say: “You’re talking about me? We just kicked out your station chief.”’

The bin Laden compound was less than two miles from the Pakistan Military Academy, and a Pakistani army combat battalion headquarters was another mile or so away. Abbottabad is less than 15 minutes by helicopter from Tarbela Ghazi, an important base for ISI covert operations and the facility where those who guard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal are trained. ‘Ghazi is why the ISI put bin Laden in Abbottabad in the first place,’ the retired official said, ‘to keep him under constant supervision.’


The risks for Obama were high at this early stage, especially because there was a troubling precedent: the failed 1980 attempt to rescue the American hostages in Tehran. That failure was a factor in Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan. Obama’s worries were realistic, the retired official said. ‘Was bin Laden ever there? Was the whole story a product of Pakistani deception? What about political blowback in case of failure?’ After all, as the retired official said, ‘If the mission fails, Obama’s just a black Jimmy Carter and it’s all over for re-election.’

Obama was anxious for reassurance that the US was going to get the right man. The proof was to come in the form of bin Laden’s DNA. The planners turned for help to Kayani and Pasha, who asked Aziz to obtain the specimens. Soon after the raid the press found out that Aziz had been living in a house near the bin Laden compound: local reporters discovered his name in Urdu on a plate on the door. Pakistani officials denied that Aziz had any connection to bin Laden, but the retired official told me that Aziz had been rewarded with a share of the $25 million reward the US had put up because the DNA sample had showed conclusively that it was bin Laden in Abbottabad. (In his subsequent testimony to a Pakistani commission investigating the bin Laden raid, Aziz said that he had witnessed the attack on Abbottabad, but had no knowledge of who was living in the compound and had been ordered by a superior officer to stay away from the scene.)

Bargaining continued over the way the mission would be executed. ‘Kayani eventually tells us yes, but he says you can’t have a big strike force. You have to come in lean and mean. And you have to kill him, or there is no deal,’ the retired official said. The agreement was struck by the end of January 2011, and Joint Special Operations Command prepared a list of questions to be answered by the Pakistanis: ‘How can we be assured of no outside intervention? What are the defences inside the compound and its exact dimensions? Where are bin Laden’s rooms and exactly how big are they? How many steps in the stairway? Where are the doors to his rooms, and are they reinforced with steel? How thick?’ The Pakistanis agreed to permit a four-man American cell – a Navy Seal, a CIA case officer and two communications specialists – to set up a liaison office at Tarbela Ghazi for the coming assault. By then, the military had constructed a mock-up of the compound in Abbottabad at a secret former nuclear test site in Nevada, and an elite Seal team had begun rehearsing for the attack.

The US had begun to cut back on aid to Pakistan – to ‘turn off the spigot’, in the retired official’s words. The provision of 18 new F-16 fighter aircraft was delayed, and under-the-table cash payments to the senior leaders were suspended. In April 2011 Pasha met the CIA director, Leon Panetta, at agency headquarters. ‘Pasha got a commitment that the United States would turn the money back on, and we got a guarantee that there would be no Pakistani opposition during the mission,’ the retired official said. ‘Pasha also insisted that Washington stop complaining about Pakistan’s lack of co-operation with the American war on terrorism.’ At one point that spring, Pasha offered the Americans a blunt explanation of the reason Pakistan kept bin Laden’s capture a secret, and why it was imperative for the ISI role to remain secret: ‘We needed a hostage to keep tabs on al-Qaida and the Taliban,’ Pasha said, according to the retired official. ‘The ISI was using bin Laden as leverage against Taliban and al-Qaida activities inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. They let the Taliban and al-Qaida leadership know that if they ran operations that clashed with the interests of the ISI, they would turn bin Laden over to us. So if it became known that the Pakistanis had worked with us to get bin Laden at Abbottabad, there would be hell to pay.’

At one of his meetings with Panetta, according to the retired official and a source within the CIA, Pasha was asked by a senior CIA official whether he saw himself as acting in essence as an agent for al-Qaida and the Taliban. ‘He answered no, but said the ISI needed to have some control.’ The message, as the CIA saw it, according to the retired official, was that Kayani and Pasha viewed bin Laden ‘as a resource, and they were more interested in their [own] survival than they were in the United States’.

A Pakistani with close ties to the senior leadership of the ISI told me that ‘there was a deal with your top guys. We were very reluctant, but it had to be done – not because of personal enrichment, but because all of the American aid programmes would be cut off. Your guys said we will starve you out if you don’t do it, and the okay was given while Pasha was in Washington. The deal was not only to keep the taps open, but Pasha was told there would be more goodies for us.’ The Pakistani said that Pasha’s visit also resulted in a commitment from the US to give Pakistan ‘a freer hand’ in Afghanistan as it began its military draw-down there. ‘And so our top dogs justified the deal by saying this is for our country.’

Pasha and Kayani were responsible for ensuring that Pakistan’s army and air defence command would not track or engage with the US helicopters used on the mission. The American cell at Tarbela Ghazi was charged with co-ordinating communications between the ISI, the senior US officers at their command post in Afghanistan, and the two Black Hawk helicopters; the goal was to ensure that no stray Pakistani fighter plane on border patrol spotted the intruders and took action to stop them. The initial plan said that news of the raid shouldn’t be announced straightaway. All units in the Joint Special Operations Command operate under stringent secrecy and the JSOC leadership believed, as did Kayani and Pasha, that the killing of bin Laden would not be made public for as long as seven days, maybe longer. Then a carefully constructed cover story would be issued: Obama would announce that DNA analysis confirmed that bin Laden had been killed in a drone raid in the Hindu Kush, on Afghanistan’s side of the border. The Americans who planned the mission assured Kayani and Pasha that their co-operation would never be made public. It was understood by all that if the Pakistani role became known, there would be violent protests – bin Laden was considered a hero by many Pakistanis – and Pasha and Kayani and their families would be in danger, and the Pakistani army publicly disgraced.

It was clear to all by this point, the retired official said, that bin Laden would not survive: ‘Pasha told us at a meeting in April that he could not risk leaving bin Laden in the compound now that we know he’s there. Too many people in the Pakistani chain of command know about the mission. He and Kayani had to tell the whole story to the directors of the air defence command and to a few local commanders.

‘Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,’ the retired official said. ‘Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.’ A former Seal commander, who has led and participated in dozens of similar missions over the past decade, assured me that ‘we were not going to keep bin Laden alive – to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We’ve come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, “Let’s face it. We’re going to commit a murder.”’ The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.

At the Abbottabad compound ISI guards were posted around the clock to keep watch over bin Laden and his wives and children. They were under orders to leave as soon as they heard the rotors of the US helicopters. The town was dark: the electricity supply had been cut off on the orders of the ISI hours before the raid began. One of the Black Hawks crashed inside the walls of the compound, injuring many on board. ‘The guys knew the TOT [time on target] had to be tight because they would wake up the whole town going in,’ the retired official said. The cockpit of the crashed Black Hawk, with its communication and navigational gear, had to be destroyed by concussion grenades, and this would create a series of explosions and a fire visible for miles. Two Chinook helicopters had flown from Afghanistan to a nearby Pakistani intelligence base to provide logistical support, and one of them was immediately dispatched to Abbottabad. But because the helicopter had been equipped with a bladder loaded with extra fuel for the two Black Hawks, it first had to be reconfigured as a troop carrier. The crash of the Black Hawk and the need to fly in a replacement were nerve-wracking and time-consuming setbacks, but the Seals continued with their mission. There was no firefight as they moved into the compound; the ISI guards had gone. ‘Everyone in Pakistan has a gun and high-profile, wealthy folks like those who live in Abbottabad have armed bodyguards, and yet there were no weapons in the compound,’ the retired official pointed out. Had there been any opposition, the team would have been highly vulnerable. Instead, the retired official said, an ISI liaison officer flying with the Seals guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters. The Seals had been warned by the Pakistanis that heavy steel doors blocked the stairwell on the first and second-floor landings; bin Laden’s rooms were on the third floor. The Seal squad used explosives to blow the doors open, without injuring anyone. One of bin Laden’s wives was screaming hysterically and a bullet – perhaps a stray round – struck her knee. Aside from those that hit bin Laden, no other shots were fired. (The Obama administration’s account would hold otherwise.)


‘They knew where the target was – third floor, second door on the right,’ the retired official said. ‘Go straight there. Osama was cowering and retreated into the bedroom. Two shooters followed him and opened up. Very simple, very straightforward, very professional hit.’ Some of the Seals were appalled later at the White House’s initial insistence that they had shot bin Laden in self-defence, the retired official said. ‘Six of the Seals’ finest, most experienced NCOs, faced with an unarmed elderly civilian, had to kill him in self-defence? The house was shabby and bin Laden was living in a cell with bars on the window and barbed wire on the roof. The rules of engagement were that if bin Laden put up any opposition they were authorised to take lethal action. But if they suspected he might have some means of opposition, like an explosive vest under his robe, they could also kill him. So here’s this guy in a mystery robe and they shot him. It’s not because he was reaching for a weapon. The rules gave them absolute authority to kill the guy.’ The later White House claim that only one or two bullets were fired into his head was ‘bullshit’, the retired official said. ‘The squad came through the door and obliterated him. As the Seals say, “We kicked his ass and took his gas.”’

After they killed bin Laden, ‘the Seals were just there, some with physical injuries from the crash, waiting for the relief chopper,’ the retired official said. ‘Twenty tense minutes. The Black Hawk is still burning. There are no city lights. No electricity. No police. No fire trucks. They have no prisoners.’ Bin Laden’s wives and children were left for the ISI to interrogate and relocate. ‘Despite all the talk,’ the retired official continued, there were ‘no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks. The Seals weren’t there because they thought bin Laden was running a command centre for al-Qaida operations, as the White House would later tell the media. And they were not intelligence experts gathering information inside that house.’

On a normal assault mission, the retired official said, there would be no waiting around if a chopper went down. ‘The Seals would have finished the mission, thrown off their guns and gear, and jammed into the remaining Black Hawk and di-di-maued’ – Vietnamese slang for leaving in a rush – ‘out of there, with guys hanging out of the doors. They would not have blown the chopper – no commo gear is worth a dozen lives – unless they knew they were safe. Instead they stood around outside the compound, waiting for the bus to arrive.’ Pasha and Kayani had delivered on all their promises.


The backroom argument inside the White House began as soon as it was clear that the mission had succeeded. Bin Laden’s body was presumed to be on its way to Afghanistan. Should Obama stand by the agreement with Kayani and Pasha and pretend a week or so later that bin Laden had been killed in a drone attack in the mountains, or should he go public immediately? The downed helicopter made it easy for Obama’s political advisers to urge the latter plan. The explosion and fireball would be impossible to hide, and word of what had happened was bound to leak. Obama had to ‘get out in front of the story’ before someone in the Pentagon did: waiting would diminish the political impact.

Not everyone agreed. Robert Gates, the secretary of defence, was the most outspoken of those who insisted that the agreements with Pakistan had to be honoured. In his memoir, Duty, Gates did not mask his anger:

Before we broke up and the president headed upstairs to tell the American people what had just happened, I reminded everyone that the techniques, tactics and procedures the Seals had used in the bin Laden operation were used every night in Afghanistan … it was therefore essential that we agree not to release any operational details of the raid. That we killed him, I said, is all we needed to say. Everybody in that room agreed to keep mum on details. That commitment lasted about five hours. The initial leaks came from the White House and CIA. They just couldn’t wait to brag and to claim credit. The facts were often wrong … Nonetheless the information just kept pouring out. I was outraged and at one point, told [the national security adviser, Tom] Donilon, ‘Why doesn’t everybody just shut the **** up?’ To no avail.

Obama’s speech was put together in a rush, the retired official said, and was viewed by his advisers as a political document, not a message that needed to be submitted for clearance to the national security bureaucracy. This series of self-serving and inaccurate statements would create chaos in the weeks following. Obama said that his administration had discovered that bin Laden was in Pakistan through ‘a possible lead’ the previous August; to many in the CIA the statement suggested a specific event, such as a walk-in. The remark led to a new cover story claiming that the CIA’s brilliant analysts had unmasked a courier network handling bin Laden’s continuing flow of operational orders to al-Qaida. Obama also praised ‘a small team of Americans’ for their care in avoiding civilian deaths and said: ‘After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.’ Two more details now had to be supplied for the cover story: a description of the firefight that never happened, and a story about what happened to the corpse. Obama went on to praise the Pakistanis: ‘It’s important to note that our counterterrorism co-operation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.’ That statement risked exposing Kayani and Pasha. The White House’s solution was to ignore what Obama had said and order anyone talking to the press to insist that the Pakistanis had played no role in killing bin Laden. Obama left the clear impression that he and his advisers hadn’t known for sure that bin Laden was in Abbottabad, but only had information ‘about the possibility’. This led first to the story that the Seals had determined they’d killed the right man by having a six-foot-tall Seal lie next to the corpse for comparison (bin Laden was known to be six foot four); and then to the claim that a DNA test had been performed on the corpse and demonstrated conclusively that the Seals had killed bin Laden. But, according to the retired official, it wasn’t clear from the Seals’ early reports whether all of bin Laden’s body, or any of it, made it back to Afghanistan.

Gates wasn’t the only official who was distressed by Obama’s decision to speak without clearing his remarks in advance, the retired official said, ‘but he was the only one protesting. Obama didn’t just double-cross Gates, he double-crossed everyone. This was not the fog of war. The fact that there was an agreement with the Pakistanis and no contingency analysis of what was to be disclosed if something went wrong – that wasn’t even discussed. And once it went wrong, they had to make up a new cover story on the fly.’ There was a legitimate reason for some deception: the role of the Pakistani walk-in had to be protected.



The White House press corps was told in a briefing shortly after Obama’s announcement that the death of bin Laden was ‘the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work’ that focused on tracking a group of couriers, including one who was known to be close to bin Laden. Reporters were told that a team of specially assembled CIA and National Security Agency analysts had traced the courier to a highly secure million-dollar compound in Abbottabad. After months of observation, the American intelligence community had ‘high confidence’ that a high-value target was living in the compound, and it was ‘assessed that there was a strong probability that [it] was Osama bin Laden’. The US assault team ran into a firefight on entering the compound and three adult males – two of them believed to be the couriers – were slain, along with bin Laden. Asked if bin Laden had defended himself, one of the briefers said yes: ‘He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight.’

The next day John Brennan, then Obama’s senior adviser for counterterrorism, had the task of talking up Obama’s valour while trying to smooth over the misstatements in his speech. He provided a more detailed but equally misleading account of the raid and its planning. Speaking on the record, which he rarely does, Brennan said that the mission was carried out by a group of Navy Seals who had been instructed to take bin Laden alive, if possible. He said the US had no information suggesting that anyone in the Pakistani government or military knew bin Laden’s whereabouts: ‘We didn’t contact the Pakistanis until after all of our people, all of our aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace.’ He emphasised the courage of Obama’s decision to order the strike, and said that the White House had no information ‘that confirmed that bin Laden was at the compound’ before the raid began. Obama, he said, ‘made what I believe was one of the gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory’. Brennan increased the number killed by the Seals inside the compound to five: bin Laden, a courier, his brother, a bin Laden son, and one of the women said to be shielding bin Laden.

Asked whether bin Laden had fired on the Seals, as some reporters had been told, Brennan repeated what would become a White House mantra: ‘He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know … Here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks … living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield … [It] just speaks to I think the nature of the individual he was.’

Gates also objected to the idea, pushed by Brennan and Leon Panetta, that US intelligence had learned of bin Laden’s whereabouts from information acquired by waterboarding and other forms of torture. ‘All of this is going on as the Seals are flying home from their mission. The agency guys know the whole story,’ the retired official said. ‘It was a group of annuitants who did it.’ (Annuitants are retired CIA officers who remain active on contract.) ‘They had been called in by some of the mission planners in the agency to help with the cover story. So the old-timers come in and say why not admit that we got some of the information about bin Laden from enhanced interrogation?’ At the time, there was still talk in Washington about the possible prosecution of CIA agents who had conducted torture.

‘Gates told them this was not going to work,’ the retired official said. ‘He was never on the team. He knew at the eleventh hour of his career not to be a party to this nonsense. But State, the agency and the Pentagon had bought in on the cover story. None of the Seals thought that Obama was going to get on national TV and announce the raid. The Special Forces command was apoplectic. They prided themselves on keeping operational security.’ There was fear in Special Operations, the retired official said, that ‘if the true story of the missions leaked out, the White House bureaucracy was going to blame it on the Seals.’

The White House’s solution was to silence the Seals. On 5 May, every member of the Seal hit team – they had returned to their base in southern Virginia – and some members of the Joint Special Operations Command leadership were presented with a nondisclosure form drafted by the White House’s legal office; it promised civil penalties and a lawsuit for anyone who discussed the mission, in public or private. ‘The Seals were not happy,’ the retired official said. But most of them kept quiet, as did Admiral William McRaven, who was then in charge of JSOC. ‘McRaven was apoplectic. He knew he was ****ed by the White House, but he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Seal, and not then a political operator, and he knew there’s no glory in blowing the whistle on the president. When Obama went public with bin Laden’s death, everyone had to scramble around for a new story that made sense, and the planners were stuck holding the bag.’

Within days, some of the early exaggerations and distortions had become obvious and the Pentagon issued a series of clarifying statements. No, bin Laden was not armed when he was shot and killed. And no, bin Laden did not use one of his wives as a shield. The press by and large accepted the explanation that the errors were the inevitable by-product of the White House’s desire to accommodate reporters frantic for details of the mission.

One lie that has endured is that the Seals had to fight their way to their target. Only two Seals have made any public statement: No Easy Day, a first-hand account of the raid by Matt Bissonnette, was published in September 2012; and two years later Rob O’Neill was interviewed by Fox News. Both men had resigned from the navy; both had fired at bin Laden. Their accounts contradicted each other on many details, but their stories generally supported the White House version, especially when it came to the need to kill or be killed as the Seals fought their way to bin Laden. O’Neill even told Fox News that he and his fellow Seals thought ‘We were going to die.’ ‘The more we trained on it, the more we realised … this is going to be a one-way mission.’

But the retired official told me that in their initial debriefings the Seals made no mention of a firefight, or indeed of any opposition. The drama and danger portrayed by Bissonnette and O’Neill met a deep-seated need, the retired official said: ‘Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen.’

There was another reason to claim there had been a firefight inside the compound, the retired official said: to avoid the inevitable question that would arise from an uncontested assault. Where were bin Laden’s guards? Surely, the most sought-after terrorist in the world would have around-the-clock protection. ‘And one of those killed had to be the courier, because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him. The Pakistanis had no choice but to play along with it.’ (Two days after the raid, Reuters published photographs of three dead men that it said it had purchased from an ISI official. Two of the men were later identified by an ISI spokesman as being the alleged courier and his brother.)

Five days after the raid the Pentagon press corps was provided with a series of videotapes that were said by US officials to have been taken from a large collection the Seals had removed from the compound, along with as many as 15 computers. Snippets from one of the videos showed a solitary bin Laden looking wan and wrapped in a blanket, watching what appeared to be a video of himself on television. An unnamed official told reporters that the raid produced a ‘treasure trove … the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever’, which would provide vital insights into al-Qaida’s plans. The official said the material showed that bin Laden ‘remained an active leader in al-Qaida, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group … He was far from a figurehead [and] continued to direct even tactical details of the group’s management and to encourage plotting’ from what was described as a command-and-control centre in Abbottabad. ‘He was an active player, making the recent operation even more essential for our nation’s security,’ the official said. The information was so vital, he added, that the administration was setting up an inter-agency task force to process it: ‘He was not simply someone who was penning al-Qaida strategy. He was throwing operational ideas out there and he was also specifically directing other al-Qaida members.’

These claims were fabrications: there wasn’t much activity for bin Laden to exercise command and control over. The retired intelligence official said that the CIA’s internal reporting shows that since bin Laden moved to Abbottabad in 2006 only a handful of terrorist attacks could be linked to the remnants of bin Laden’s al-Qaida. ‘We were told at first,’ the retired official said, ‘that the Seals produced garbage bags of stuff and that the community is generating daily intelligence reports out of this stuff. And then we were told that the community is gathering everything together and needs to translate it. But nothing has come of it. Every single thing they have created turns out not to be true. It’s a great hoax – like the Piltdown man.’ The retired official said that most of the materials from Abbottabad were turned over to the US by the Pakistanis, who later razed the building. The ISI took responsibility for the wives and children of bin Laden, none of whom was made available to the US for questioning.

‘Why create the treasure trove story?’ the retired official said. ‘The White House had to give the impression that bin Laden was still operationally important. Otherwise, why kill him? A cover story was created – that there was a network of couriers coming and going with memory sticks and instructions. All to show that bin Laden remained important.’

In July 2011, the Washington Post published what purported to be a summary of some of these materials. The story’s contradictions were glaring. It said the documents had resulted in more than four hundred intelligence reports within six weeks; it warned of unspecified al-Qaida plots; and it mentioned arrests of suspects ‘who are named or described in emails that bin Laden received’. The Post didn’t identify the suspects or reconcile that detail with the administration’s previous assertions that the Abbottabad compound had no internet connection. Despite their claims that the documents had produced hundreds of reports, the Post also quoted officials saying that their main value wasn’t the actionable intelligence they contained, but that they enabled ‘analysts to construct a more comprehensive portrait of al-Qaida’.

In May 2012, the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, a private research group, released translations it had made under a federal government contract of 175 pages of bin Laden documents. Reporters found none of the drama that had been touted in the days after the raid. Patrick Cockburn wrote about the contrast between the administration’s initial claims that bin Laden was the ‘spider at the centre of a conspiratorial web’ and what the translations actually showed: that bin Laden was ‘delusional’ and had ‘limited contact with the outside world outside his compound’.

The retired official disputed the authenticity of the West Point materials: ‘There is no linkage between these documents and the counterterrorism centre at the agency. No intelligence community analysis. When was the last time the CIA: 1) announced it had a significant intelligence find; 2) revealed the source; 3) described the method for processing the materials; 4) revealed the time-line for production; 5) described by whom and where the analysis was taking place, and 6) published the sensitive results before the information had been acted on? No agency professional would support this fairy tale.’

In June 2011, it was reported in the New York Times, the Washington Post and all over the Pakistani press that Amir Aziz had been held for questioning in Pakistan; he was, it was said, a CIA informant who had been spying on the comings and goings at the bin Laden compound. Aziz was released, but the retired official said that US intelligence was unable to learn who leaked the highly classified information about his involvement with the mission. Officials in Washington decided they ‘could not take a chance that Aziz’s role in obtaining bin Laden’s DNA also would become known’. A sacrificial lamb was needed, and the one chosen was Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old Pakistani doctor and sometime CIA asset, who had been arrested by the Pakistanis in late May and accused of assisting the agency. ‘We went to the Pakistanis and said go after Afridi,’ the retired official said. ‘We had to cover the whole issue of how we got the DNA.’ It was soon reported that the CIA had organised a fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad with Afridi’s help in a failed attempt to obtain bin Laden’s DNA. Afridi’s legitimate medical operation was run independently of local health authorities, was well financed and offered free vaccinations against hepatitis B. Posters advertising the programme were displayed throughout the area. Afridi was later accused of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison because of his ties to an extremist. News of the CIA-sponsored programme created widespread anger in Pakistan, and led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying.

The retired official said that Afridi had been recruited long before the bin Laden mission as part of a separate intelligence effort to get information about suspected terrorists in Abbottabad and the surrounding area. ‘The plan was to use vaccinations as a way to get the blood of terrorism suspects in the villages.’ Afridi made no attempt to obtain DNA from the residents of the bin Laden compound. The report that he did so was a hurriedly put together ‘CIA cover story creating “facts”’ in a clumsy attempt to protect Aziz and his real mission. ‘Now we have the consequences,’ the retired official said. ‘A great humanitarian project to do something meaningful for the peasants has been compromised as a cynical hoax.’ Afridi’s conviction was overturned, but he remains in prison on a murder charge.

In his address announcing the raid, Obama said that after killing bin Laden the Seals ‘took custody of his body’. The statement created a problem. In the initial plan it was to be announced a week or so after the fact that bin Laden was killed in a drone strike somewhere in the mountains on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and that his remains had been identified by DNA testing. But with Obama’s announcement of his killing by the Seals everyone now expected a body to be produced. Instead, reporters were told that bin Laden’s body had been flown by the Seals to an American military airfield in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and then straight to the USS Carl Vinson, a supercarrier on routine patrol in the North Arabian Sea. Bin Laden had then been buried at sea, just hours after his death. The press corps’s only sceptical moments at John Brennan’s briefing on 2 May were to do with the burial. The questions were short, to the point, and rarely answered. ‘When was the decision made that he would be buried at sea if killed?’ ‘Was this part of the plan all along?’ ‘Can you just tell us why that was a good idea?’ ‘John, did you consult a Muslim expert on that?’ ‘Is there a visual recording of this burial?’ When this last question was asked, Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, came to Brennan’s rescue: ‘We’ve got to give other people a chance here.’


‘We thought the best way to ensure that his body was given an appropriate Islamic burial,’ Brennan said, ‘was to take those actions that would allow us to do that burial at sea.’ He said ‘appropriate specialists and experts’ were consulted, and that the US military was fully capable of carrying out the burial ‘consistent with Islamic law’. Brennan didn’t mention that Muslim law calls for the burial service to be conducted in the presence of an imam, and there was no suggestion that one happened to be on board the Carl Vinson.

In a reconstruction of the bin Laden operation for Vanity Fair, Mark Bowden, who spoke to many senior administration officials, wrote that bin Laden’s body was cleaned and photographed at Jalalabad. Further procedures necessary for a Muslim burial were performed on the carrier, he wrote, ‘with bin Laden’s body being washed again and wrapped in a white shroud. A navy photographer recorded the burial in full sunlight, Monday morning, May 2.’ Bowden described the photos:

One frame shows the body wrapped in a weighted shroud. The next shows it lying diagonally on a chute, feet overboard. In the next frame the body is hitting the water. In the next it is visible just below the surface, ripples spreading outward. In the last frame there are only circular ripples on the surface. The mortal remains of Osama bin Laden were gone for good.

Bowden was careful not to claim that he had actually seen the photographs he described, and he recently told me he hadn’t seen them: ‘I’m always disappointed when I can’t look at something myself, but I spoke with someone I trusted who said he had seen them himself and described them in detail.’ Bowden’s statement adds to the questions about the alleged burial at sea, which has provoked a flood of Freedom of Information Act requests, most of which produced no information. One of them sought access to the photographs. The Pentagon responded that a search of all available records had found no evidence that any photographs had been taken of the burial. Requests on other issues related to the raid were equally unproductive. The reason for the lack of response became clear after the Pentagon held an inquiry into allegations that the Obama administration had provided access to classified materials to the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty. The Pentagon report, which was put online in June 2013, noted that Admiral McRaven had ordered the files on the raid to be deleted from all military computers and moved to the CIA, where they would be shielded from FOIA requests by the agency’s ‘operational exemption’.

McRaven’s action meant that outsiders could not get access to the Carl Vinson’s unclassified logs. Logs are sacrosanct in the navy, and separate ones are kept for air operations, the deck, the engineering department, the medical office, and for command information and control. They show the sequence of events day by day aboard the ship; if there has been a burial at sea aboard the Carl Vinson, it would have been recorded.

There wasn’t any gossip about a burial among the Carl Vinson’s sailors. The carrier concluded its six-month deployment in June 2011. When the ship docked at its home base in Coronado, California, Rear Admiral Samuel Perez, commander of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, told reporters that the crew had been ordered not to talk about the burial. Captain Bruce Lindsey, skipper of the Carl Vinson, told reporters he was unable to discuss it. Cameron Short, one of the crew of the Carl Vinson, told the Commercial-News of Danville, Illinois, that the crew had not been told anything about the burial. ‘All he knows is what he’s seen on the news,’ the newspaper reported.

The Pentagon did release a series of emails to the Associated Press. In one of them, Rear Admiral Charles Gaouette reported that the service followed ‘traditional procedures for Islamic burial’, and said none of the sailors on board had been permitted to observe the proceedings. But there was no indication of who washed and wrapped the body, or of which Arabic speaker conducted the service.

Within weeks of the raid, I had been told by two longtime consultants to Special Operations Command, who have access to current intelligence, that the funeral aboard the Carl Vinson didn’t take place. One consultant told me that bin Laden’s remains were photographed and identified after being flown back to Afghanistan. The consultant added: ‘At that point, the CIA took control of the body. The cover story was that it had been flown to the Carl Vinson.’ The second consultant agreed that there had been ‘no burial at sea’. He added that ‘the killing of bin Laden was political theatre designed to burnish Obama’s military credentials … The Seals should have expected the political grandstanding. It’s irresistible to a politician. Bin Laden became a working asset.’ Early this year, speaking again to the second consultant, I returned to the burial at sea. The consultant laughed and said: ‘You mean, he didn’t make it to the water?’

The retired official said there had been another complication: some members of the Seal team had bragged to colleagues and others that they had torn bin Laden’s body to pieces with rifle fire. The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains – or so the Seals claimed. At the time, the retired official said, the Seals did not think their mission would be made public by Obama within a few hours: ‘If the president had gone ahead with the cover story, there would have been no need to have a funeral within hours of the killing. Once the cover story was blown, and the death was made public, the White House had a serious “Where’s the body?” problem. The world knew US forces had killed bin Laden in Abbottabad. Panic city. What to do? We need a “functional body” because we have to be able to say we identified bin Laden via a DNA analysis. It would be navy officers who came up with the “burial at sea” idea. Perfect. No body. Honourable burial following sharia law. Burial is made public in great detail, but Freedom of Information documents confirming the burial are denied for reasons of “national security”. It’s the classic unravelling of a poorly constructed cover story – it solves an immediate problem but, given the slightest inspection, there is no back-up support. There never was a plan, initially, to take the body to sea, and no burial of bin Laden at sea took place.’ The retired official said that if the Seals’ first accounts are to be believed, there wouldn’t have been much left of bin Laden to put into the sea in any case.


It was inevitable that the Obama administration’s lies, misstatements and betrayals would create a backlash. ‘We’ve had a four-year lapse in co-operation,’ the retired official said. ‘It’s taken that long for the Pakistanis to trust us again in the military-to-military counterterrorism relationship – while terrorism was rising all over the world … They felt Obama sold them down the river. They’re just now coming back because the threat from Isis, which is now showing up there, is a lot greater and the bin Laden event is far enough away to enable someone like General Durrani to come out and talk about it.’ Generals Pasha and Kayani have retired and both are reported to be under investigation for corruption during their time in office.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s long-delayed report on CIA torture, released last December, documented repeated instances of official lying, and suggested that the CIA’s knowledge of bin Laden’s courier was sketchy at best and predated its use of waterboarding and other forms of torture. The report led to international headlines about brutality and waterboarding, along with gruesome details about rectal feeding tubes, ice baths and threats to rape or murder family members of detainees who were believed to be withholding information. Despite the bad publicity, the report was a victory for the CIA. Its major finding – that the use of torture didn’t lead to discovering the truth – had already been the subject of public debate for more than a decade. Another key finding – that the torture conducted was more brutal than Congress had been told – was risible, given the extent of public reporting and published exposés by former interrogators and retired CIA officers. The report depicted tortures that were obviously contrary to international law as violations of rules or ‘inappropriate activities’ or, in some cases, ‘management failures’. Whether the actions described constitute war crimes was not discussed, and the report did not suggest that any of the CIA interrogators or their superiors should be investigated for criminal activity. The agency faced no meaningful consequences as a result of the report.

The retired official told me that the CIA leadership had become experts in derailing serious threats from Congress: ‘They create something that is horrible but not that bad. Give them something that sounds terrible. “Oh my God, we were shoving food up a prisoner’s ass!” Meanwhile, they’re not telling the committee about murders, other war crimes, and secret prisons like we still have in Diego Garcia. The goal also was to stall it as long as possible, which they did.’

The main theme of the committee’s 499-page executive summary is that the CIA lied systematically about the effectiveness of its torture programme in gaining intelligence that would stop future terrorist attacks in the US. The lies included some vital details about the uncovering of an al-Qaida operative called Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was said to be the key al-Qaida courier, and the subsequent tracking of him to Abbottabad in early 2011. The agency’s alleged intelligence, patience and skill in finding al-Kuwaiti became legend after it was dramatised in Zero Dark Thirty.

The Senate report repeatedly raised questions about the quality and reliability of the CIA’s intelligence about al-Kuwaiti. In 2005 an internal CIA report on the hunt for bin Laden noted that ‘detainees provide few actionable leads, and we have to consider the possibility that they are creating fictitious characters to distract us or to absolve themselves of direct knowledge about bin Ladin [sic].’ A CIA cable a year later stated that ‘we have had no success in eliciting actionable intelligence on bin Laden’s location from any detainees.’ The report also highlighted several instances of CIA officers, including Panetta, making false statements to Congress and the public about the value of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in the search for bin Laden’s couriers.

Obama today is not facing re-election as he was in the spring of 2011. His principled stand on behalf of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran says much, as does his decision to operate without the support of the conservative Republicans in Congress. High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.

Now this is what I call journalism!
 

J. Abizeid

Well-Known Member
Was the killing of Osama bin Laden really a war crime? - StarTribune.com

Was the killing of Osama bin Laden really a war crime?

If new claims are true that he was in custody, unresisting, it’s tricky to defend his death legally or morally.



ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP
(AP Photo)

We’ll probably never know the accuracy of all the details in Seymour Hersh’s alternative account of the killing of Osama bin Laden. But Hersh’s version has enough verisimilitude that it calls for reconsidering what has always been the most troubling legal question, even under the official version of the event: Was the shooting of bin Laden proportionate and therefore justified under international law? Or was it, to put the matter bluntly, a war crime?

Recall that, when the White House first broke the story, it incorrectly stated that bin Laden had been reaching for an AK-47 when he was shot. Were that true, the killing would have been legal under the U.S. interpretation of international law. Since Congress had declared war on al-Qaida after Sept. 11, bin Laden was a combatant — and it’s permissible to shoot an armed combatant in wartime. True, you have to accept that the struggle against al-Qaida is really a war, and that the battlefield extends to the whole world — propositions that many non- American international lawyers dispute. But at least within the official U.S. version of the laws of war, the killing would not have been problematic.

When official word came down that bin Laden had in fact been unarmed, another legal justification became necessary. The laws of war require proportionate force to be used against the enemy. One variant of the story has it that bin Laden was shot first in the body, disabling him, then in the head to make sure he was dead. If this had been true, the second shot or shots sound uncomfortably like a coup de grace — which would be illegal, as the first shots would’ve rendered bin Laden out of combat under the laws of war.

The government’s argument seemed to be that the shots to bin Laden’s head were legally justified because bin Laden might have had a button for a suicide bomb or a remotely triggered explosive device on his person. Under the circumstances, shooting him in the body wouldn’t have guaranteed the safety of the shooters. Shooting him in the head would therefore arguably have been justified, because it would have been proportionate to the amount of force needed to defeat the enemy while preserving the safety of the U.S. troops.

If this theory sounds tenuous to you, you’re not alone. Nevertheless, it furnished the fig leaf the Barack Obama administration needed so that the president didn’t find himself bragging about a killing that was unlawful even under the U.S. interpretation of the laws of war.

Hersh’s account — which cites both named and unnamed sources — differs in three important ways, raising new legal questions. First, Hersh says that the U.S. knew bin Laden was being held in the Abbottabad compound as a prisoner of the Pakistani ISI, that country’s intelligence service. The U.S. knew that his ISI guards would be gone from the compound — and as a result, Hersh implies, the U.S. knew with a high degree of likelihood that there would be no guns in the compound and no resistance.

If the U.S. in fact knew that bin Laden was effectively a prisoner — not to mention that he was unarmed and unprotected - - then killing him would almost certainly have violated the laws of war. A former combatant who is “hors de combat” — rendered incapable of fighting — isn’t a lawful target for killing. A prisoner is a perfect example. (To make matters worse, Hersh also reports that bin Laden was known to be an invalid.) Of course, Seal Team Six couldn’t be 100 percent certain that bin Laden was unarmed and without a kamikaze device — and who knows what orders they received. But according to Hersh, the chain of command knew bin Laden was effectively an unarmed, unprotected prisoner.

The second difference in Hersh’s account is the claim that killing bin Laden, not taking him captive, was a condition set by senior Pakistani generals for allowing the mission. According to Hersh, neither the Pakistanis nor the Saudis wanted bin Laden talking. But the motive is irrelevant. If the U.S. agreed in advance to kill a captive bin Laden, then the whole operation takes the form of a targeted and premeditated extrajudicial killing. That would be fine according to the American interpretation of the laws of war, like any other drone strike - - so long as bin Laden was a combatant, not a Pakistani prisoner.

The final twist is Hersh’s version of the killing itself. According to his sources, the SEALs were led directly to bin Laden’s room by an ISI operative, then opened fire massively and immediately, killing bin Laden instantly. Under the laws of war, you’re allowed to ambush somebody. There’s no obligation to give an enemy the chance to surrender. But the description supports the theory that bin Laden was a prisoner of the ISI being handed over for execution.

Does it matter? Does anyone care whether killing bin Laden was lawful at all? “By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide,” a former SEAL told Hersh. “Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, ‘Let’s face it. We’re going to commit a murder.’ ”

Perhaps there are circumstances where breaking the laws of war is morally justifiable. By today’s legal standards, the bombings of Hiroshima and especially of Nagasaki are difficult to justify, given the essentially civilian nature of the targets. Yet many Americans no doubt still believe that Truman was right to use nuclear weapons to shorten World War II and save countless American lives.

Maybe killing bin Laden was one of those circumstances. If it were known for certain that bin Laden had been shot like a fish in a barrel, it’s still highly unlikely that there would be much protest about it in the U.S. But given that we’re trying the 9/11 planners in Guantanamo for gross breaches of the laws of war, and that they will presumably be executed once convicted, it’s worth taking a moment to investigate war crimes. And who we think should be punished for committing them.
 

J. Abizeid

Well-Known Member
Politico Gives CIA's Worst WMD Liar a Platform to Slam Seymour Hersh - The Intercept

Politico Gives CIA’s Worst WMD Liar a Platform to Slam Seymour Hersh




It’s hard for anyone to judge the accuracy of Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster story on the killing of Osama bin Laden, given its reliance on unnamed sources. I personally would trust him more than most people stuck in the oozing miasma that is Washington, D.C., but he does ask readers to rely completely on his judgment. So it’s certainly appropriate and useful for other journalists to provide context on whether Hersh’s previous reporting has proven correct.

What’s neither appropriate nor useful is to give former government officials the chance to attack Hersh’s story without giving readers the context of their track record of veracity. But that’s exactly what Politico did in this piece, “U.S. officials fuming over Hersh account of Osama bin Laden raid”:

“If you were to believe Sy, you would have to believe this massive conspiracy that President Obama, Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Mike Morell were all lying to you,” said Bill Harlow, the [CIA]’s former top spokesman, referring to two recent secretaries of defense and a former acting CIA director. “It makes absolutely no sense.”

The next paragraph would have been the right place for Politico to say this:

In 2003, Harlow himself participated in a massive conspiracy to lie to you about Iraq’s purported WMD. Indeed, he personally engaged in some of most egregious government dishonesty on the issue when he blatantly lied about a Newsweek story published just before the war that strongly suggested Iraq had no remaining banned weapons. Since leaving the CIA, Harlow has co-written three books with former top CIA officials, all of which defend the agency’s use of torture, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently accused Harlow of making “false charges” about the Senate’s torture investigation.

That would have provided a real service: readers would have heard what Harlow had to say about a specific news article, but also learned that Harlow has a history of dishonesty when he wants to discredit accurate reporting. After all, “history matters,” as Harlow himself said in At the Center of the Storm, his book co-written with former CIA director George Tenet.

But Politico didn’t say that. What it did go on to say was that “In recent years … Hersh’s reporting has increasingly been called into question,” and that a 2013 piece by Hersh “was turned down by both The New York Times and The Washington Post.” In other words, it provided negative context for Hersh, but not Harlow. Then it quoted Harlow again, on how talking to Hersh is “a psychedelic experience.”

Bryan Bender, one of the authors of the Politico piece, responded to my questions, for which I give him credit. Bender writes:

I felt burned by it at the time [in 2003] as a reporter asking questions about the case for war against Saddam. But a spotty record on the WMD facts or not, Bill Harlow remains a conduit to agency officials — current and former. He helped former acting CIA director Mike Morell write his new book. Given the assertions in the Hersh piece we were interested in the Intelligence Community’s reaction. Which is why we talked to him. …

If the alternative is to never talk to officials in the spy community who have made misleading public statements but continue to be consulted by agency leaders then how would we ever catch them if they mislead the public again?

Bender also makes the fair point that spokespersons like Harlow “are usually the least informed in the spy world” and in 2003 was possibly just “regurgitating what others on the inside were telling [him].”

And in fact, that was Harlow’s position when I asked him about his false 2003 statements on Iraq. “ was misinformed on that one question,” Harlow said, “but to judge all of [my] other comments going forward based on that single media inquiry response would be just as unfair as to judge Seymour Hersh’s credibility as outlined in this Newsweek article from 1997 which details how Hersh was pushing a book and television project which involved at one point documents which turned out to be apparent forgeries.” (Hersh never published anything based on the forged documents.)

Asked who had provided him with the misinformation in 2003, Harlow responded: “I genuinely do not recall” and “I have no intention to engage in an exchange about that single answer to one of the thousands of questions I handled in that job more than a decade ago.” However, Harlow said, he is not misinformed about Hersh’s bin Laden story because “The information on the bin Laden case is based not only on Mr. Morell’s participation in nearly every meeting at the CIA and White House leading up to the raid — but also detailed accounts from others like Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, and many others.”

The website of 15 Seconds, Harlow’s communications consulting firm, states that it can give clients advice on “Methods of deflecting difficult questions designed to bait you.”
 

J. Abizeid

Well-Known Member
Snowden Files Give New Details on Osama bin Laden Raid

What the Snowden Files Say About the Osama Bin Laden Raid


AFP/Getty Images


Secret intelligence documents disclosed by Edward Snowden provide new context for evaluating the various accounts of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011.

The U.S. has long maintained that the raid was conducted without the knowledge of the Pakistani government, and that the critical intelligence that led to bin Laden’s location came from a years-long effort by U.S. analysts and operatives to trace the path of an Al Qaeda courier.

A new report by veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, published last week in the London Review of Books, calls that story a lie.

Hersh reports that bin Laden had been in Pakistani custody since 2006, and the tip-off to his location came from a former Pakistani intelligence official in August 2010. Senior Pakistani military officers knew of the U.S. raid ahead of time, and the courier story was created to cover the role of the Pakistani informant, Hersh alleges; his account relies on a former U.S. intelligence official, two Special Operations Command consultants, and mostly unnamed sources within Pakistan. While the White House has vehemently denied Hersh’s account, other reports have supported the existence of a Pakistani walk-in informant.

The Intercept is publishing a number of documents from the Snowden archive related to the Abbottabad raid and the hunt for bin Laden, which neither explicitly prove nor disprove any aspect of Hersh’s account. However, the documents reference a number of things that are relevant to the debate, including the tracking of Al Qaeda couriers in Pakistan and the existence of intelligence gathered from the Abbottabad compound, as well as the impact of the raid on U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism partnerships.

The files provided by Snowden by no means represent the totality of intelligence community documents from that time period. The archive, sourced from the NSA’s computer systems, offers only a partial window into the intelligence community’s CIA-led efforts to find bin Laden.

The documents The Intercept identified that are related to bin Laden offer few specific details, and often use boastful language designed to justify budgets and boost career accomplishments.

Moreover, given how vast the intelligence community is — and its compartmentalization and secrecy — its members may be unaware of what other agencies, or even units within their own agency, are doing.

The British intelligence service GCHQ declined to comment on these documents, and the NSA did not respond to The Intercept’s inquiries.

The Courier

The White House has maintained that the key to finding bin Laden came when the CIA identified Al Qaeda courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (alias Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti) and tracked him to Abbottabad. Yet this apparent intelligence coup surfaces rarely in the internal NSA documents reviewed by The Intercept.

The intelligence community budget justification (or “Black Budget”) sent to Congress in 2012 reports the “identification of the courier and compound” as a highlight of the previous year and a “model of integrated [intelligence community] support.” The budget justification –designed to convince Congress to fund intelligence programs –states that “NSA analysts tracked the use of ‘infrequent’ numbers by persons of interest, and the use of Tailored Access Operations implants allowed for sustained collection access against these targets.”

It was CIA analysts who tracked the location of one of those numbers to the compound, the budget states.

According to the black budget,the CIA also conducted “pattern of life analysis” on “a collection of assets in Pakistan to identify any potential linkages, as well as digital footprints.” This analysis, the budget continues, “paired with other technical tests, increased confidence in each asset’s authenticity, reliability, and freedom from hostile control and directly contributed information leading to the successful mission on UBL’s compound.”

Ahmed’s true name does not appear in the archive files The Intercept reviewed. The one concrete reference to him is in a list of top terror suspects, updated in 2008, which identifies him only by various pseudonyms. The document states that he is still at large, believed to be in the Zabul province of Afghanistan, and that he may have location information for bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.



In 2007, the internal NSA newsletter SIDtoday boasted about an intercepted message from bin Laden to Abu-Ayyub al-Masri, Al Qaeda’s “#1 man in Iraq.” The “movement of the letter from Pakistan to Iran provided the U.S. Intelligence Community with unique insights into the communications path used by senior al-Qa’ida leaders,” and the report on it had “received rave reviews from senior U.S. policy makers including the Vice President,” the newsletter says.

On May 17, 2011, not long after the bin Laden raid, SIDtoday published an interview with Jon Darby, NSA’s then-associate deputy director for counterterrorism. Much of the interview is unclassified, and Darby offers few specifics. Darby said the NSA “played a key role in identifying the compound where bin Laden was found.”

When asked if, after 9/11, the NSA ever saw “reflections of UBL himself or members of his inner circle in SIGINT,” Darby responded, “[o]ur loss of SIGINT access to bin Laden actually occurred prior to 9/11 — it happened in 1998” with one possible exception in 2001. Bin Laden, Darby says, “was isolated and had to conduct all his business by courier,” but Darby does not explicitly state that the NSA tracked any courier. He does say that the NSA had collected intelligence on Al Qaeda figures “on the #3 level and below — who are responsible for coordinating operations abroad” and “have no choice but to communicate electronically.”

A November 2011 “Year in Review” SIDtoday article by Teresa Shea, director of Signals Intelligence at the time, is both vague and congratulatory. “For nearly a decade a dedicated group of SIGINT professionals would not let go of the search, and their persistence paid off in substantive contributions at critical points on the road to Abbottabad,” she writes. “In the end many of you brought your expertise to bear in the final weeks and hours.”

The Compound Files

After the raid, U.S. officials described a “treasure trove” of materials collected by the SEAL team in Abbottabad, from bin Laden’s letters to his pornography collection, and said that they led to hundreds of intelligence reports and a number of overseas operations. The U.S. government cited evidence from the Abbottabad compound in the court martial of Army Private Chelsea Manning in 2013 and documents were used in the successful terrorism prosecution of Abid Naseer earlier this year in a U.S. court.

Hersh’s American source asserts that the compound materials were actually of little operational significance, as bin Laden had long been sidelined in Pakistani custody. The source goes so far as to question the authenticity of the portion of the documents supposedly gathered at the compound, which were translated and published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

The Snowden documents suggest that, at least in 2011, analysts were combing through material from the compound, but do not reference any actionable intelligence gained from them.

The black budget sent to Congress reports that the intelligence community provided “linguistic and analytic” help “to exploit materials captured at the compound,” and that the National Media Exploitation Center “continues to examine and exploit the electronic materials.”

Darby, in the SIDtoday interview days after the raid, said that an interagency task force including NSA representatives is “mining the media captured during the raid on [bin Laden’s] residence,” which he said consists of “nearly 3 terabits of data.”

A GCHQ internal wiki entry dated September 2011 notes that the British government’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Center had among its “current work priorities” the “exploitation of UBL compound intelligence.”

The Aftermath of the Raid

Military intelligence assessments from coalition troops in Afghanistan detail political and diplomatic fallout in the weeks following the raid, as well as mixed reactions from the Taliban.

A May 13 NATO intelligence report assessed that the Taliban insurgency would be “largely unaffected” by bin Laden’s death, as the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban had long been strained and Al Qaeda no longer offered the group as much financial or operational support. The Al Qaeda leader’s death in Pakistan, the report notes, “offers an opportunity for the Taliban to highlight that they were not harboring [bin Laden], in an attempt to detach themselves from international terrorism and increase their political and moral legitimacy.”

The raid had also led to infighting among the Taliban, a June Regional Command Southwest report states, with some members of the Taliban feeling betrayed by the “extravagant nature of [bin Laden’s] living conditions.”

A June 1 NATO intelligence report noted that while the Pakistani parliament had asked for an investigation into the raid and a halt to drone strikes, subsequent drone strikes “have not provoked any additional PAK reactions.”

In mid-June, Regional Command Southwest reported that Pakistan was seeing a “backlash from extremist organizations who feel the Government of Pakistan is weak and complicit with Western Powers” as well as international outrage from the opposite perspective, that Pakistan had been turning a blind eye to militant groups in its backyard.

The mounting political pressure led General Kayani — who Hersh says knew about the raid ahead of time — to limit cooperation with the U.S. military and tell U.S. commanders “that drone strikes in the tribal areas near the AFG-PAK border were not acceptable,” the report says.

But Pakistan still needed U.S. military aid, and the report notes U.S. and Pakistani officials were “undergoing reconciliation talks in an attempt to … regain trust.”
 

J. Abizeid

Well-Known Member
The CIA and the Myths of the Bin Laden Raid - The Intercept

The CIA and the Myths of the Bin Laden Raid

If you read the sketchy New York Times article on the Delta Force raid into Syria a few days ago — how an ISIS leader was killed when he “tried to engage” American commandos while his fighters used women and children as shields, and an 18-year-old slave was freed with no civilian casualties thanks to “very precise fire” — you can be forgiven for thinking, “Haven’t I seen this movie before?”

You probably have, and it was called Zero Dark Thirty, the film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, written by Mark Boal and backed with gusto by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA provided Bigelow and Boal with privileged access to officials and operators behind the hunt for Osama bin Laden — and not coincidently, their movie portrayed the CIA’s torture program as essential to the effort to find and kill the leader of al Qaeda. It grossed more than $132 million worldwide.

Zero Dark Thirty was criticized by a number of writers (including me) when it came out in 2012, and now it is being treated as a political farce in a new Frontline documentary scheduled to be broadcast by PBS on Tuesday, May 19. Titled “Secrets, Politics and Torture,” the show explores the CIA’s effort to persuade Congress, the White House and the American public that its “enhanced interrogation methods” were responsible for extracting from unwilling prisoners the clues that led to bin Laden and other enemy targets.

Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer whose work on CIA torture has been exemplary, explains that the team behind Zero Dark Thirty was conned by the CIA.

“The CIA’s business is seduction, basically,” she says in the documentary. “And to seduce Hollywood producers, I mean they are easy marks compared to some of the people that the CIA has to go after.”

Another journalist, Michael Isikoff, connects the final dots by pointing out the harm caused by political lies that find their way into blockbuster films.

“Movies like Zero Dark Thirty have a huge impact,” he says. “More people see them, and more people get their impressions about what happened from a movie like that than they do from countless news stories or TV spots.”

The Frontline documentary could not come at a better moment. Just last week, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published a 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books that challenged much of the official narrative about the hunt for bin Laden. You don’t have to believe everything Hersh wrote — and I don’t, including the reference to SEAL team members throwing some of bin Laden’s corpse over the Hindu Kush — to appreciate the debate he has re-opened over the considerable holes in the government’s story.

There is a saying in the military that first reports are always wrong. We need to remember this lesson when we get first reports of the latest military or intelligence successes — and the second reports and the movies, too. Much that the Pentagon said about the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch during the invasion of Iraq turned out to be fictitious. The media’s portrayal of the toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square was pretty much the opposite of what really happened as Marines stormed into Baghdad on April 9, 2003. Similar problems of fact probably exist in this week’s accounts of a flawless killing of an ISIS leader (or at least a man whom the military tells us is an ISIS leader).

The Frontline documentary includes a clip from Zero Dark Thirty in which a CIA torturer yells at an al Qaeda prisoner, “When you lie to me, I hurt you!” A repurposing of that line would hold true for the government and the American public — when it lies to us, it hurts us.



Is The Movie "Zero Dark Thirty" CIA Propaganda? | FRONTLINE
 

Indie

Legendary Member
Orange Room Supporter
Think of it this way JL. If it's fake, it's not more fake than most "journalism" nowadays, but it sure was a more enthralling read.
 

J. Abizeid

Well-Known Member
Think of it this way JL. If it's fake, it's not more fake than most "journalism" nowadays, but it sure was a more enthralling read.
Those who feel insulted by the inconvenient truth have no business being on this forum unless trolling is their assignment.
 

J. Abizeid

Well-Known Member
The NSA Plan to Find Bin Laden by Hiding Tracking Devices in Medical Supplies - The Intercept

The NSA Plan to Find Bin Laden by Hiding Tracking Devices in Medical Supplies




The National Security Agency concocted a plan to find Osama bin Laden by hiding tracking devices in medical supplies, in an attempt to cross what officials called the “non-electronic moat” surrounding the reportedly ailing terrorist leader.

The scheme is laid out in a top-secret NSA presentation dated June 2010 and titled “Medical Pattern of Life: Targeting High Value Individual #1,” which was among the files provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The presentation cites CIA reports on bin Laden’s poor health, including renal disease, urinary tract infections, kidney stones and intestinal problems.

Analysts could “Determine Likely Meds/Equipment” and target the “Supply Chain to HVI [high value individual],” including International Committee of the Red Cross hospitals, the presentation suggests.

The slides describe “Project Planning,” and it is unclear if the scheme ever got beyond the idea stage. The U.S. reportedly located bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in the months after the presentation was dated, and he was killed in a raid on May 2, 2011.

A spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, declined to comment on the documents specifically, but she said that “the ICRC is absolutely against the use of humanitarian aid for other purposes.”

She also noted that at the time of the presentation, the ICRC hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, “admitted weapon-wounded patients but did not disperse medical supplies to the population.”

The NSA declined to comment or answer questions.

The scheme appears to highlight concerns that U.S. spies lacked SIGINT, or signals intelligence, on bin Laden. As another internal NSA newsletter published this week by The Intercept makes clear, the NSA had not picked up electronic communications from bin Laden since he stopped using a satellite phone in the late 1990s.

“Tagging and tracking medications/supplies,” the presentation reads, “enables us to leap over the non-electronic moat with which HVIs [high value individuals] surround themselves, enabling their geolocation.” It describes embedding electronic chips capable of being tracked at long range with medications and devices like dialysis solution bags or injection bottles. The project would need the help of a variety of “stakeholders,” including the NSA, CIA, British intelligence agency GCHQ and a number of U.S. government laboratories, the presentation states.

The plot to go from “Pharma to Target,” as one slide puts it, fits into a history of U.S. spies tracking bin Laden’s health. In 2002, the FBI and CIA detained a Pakistani surgeon for a month, interrogating him about the times he had treated bin Laden. The medications reportedly found inside the Abbottabad compound after bin Laden’s death fueled more speculation about his health. (One unnamed intelligence official told to the British tabloid Daily Star that an herbal aphrodisiac was significant because “his sexual performance is an indicator of his state of health and how active he may have been in other areas.”)

Once the compound was located, the U.S. government also wanted DNA evidence that bin Laden was inside. Not long after the raid, it was reported that the CIA had set up a hepatitis vaccine drive in Abbottabad as a front to obtain DNA samples. The doctor working for the CIA, Shakil Afridi, was arrested by Pakistani intelligence and eventually sentenced to decades in prison — not for allegedly working for the CIA, but on charges of aiding a militant group.

The ruse caused huge backlash against vaccine drives, with international aid groups painted as spies and vaccinators targeted.

James Curran, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, said that spy agencies should consider the consequences of using health care institutions for their own ends. “It is always important to disassociate public health missions from wartime or spy missions that could disrupt the bonds of community trust,” he said.

Curran was one of many prominent public health scholars who signed on to a letter to the Obama administration protesting the sham vaccine drive.

“We felt it was not legitimate to risk the trust in people in public health campaigns,” Curran said. “I’m not blaming the CIA for the vaccination campaign workers that were killed, but you have to consider those things in the same thread.”

The Obama administration later pledged that the CIA would stop using vaccines as cover for operations.

The vaccine story was thrown into the spotlight again last week by a new report by Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books, which disputes many aspects of the White House narrative of how the U.S. tracked and killed bin Laden.

Hersh writes that while Afridi was indeed a CIA asset, collecting information on militants, the fake vaccination campaign was invented as a cover story for a Pakistani military doctor who had been treating bin Laden for years, and who actually obtained DNA for the Americans.

The White House and Hersh accounts converge on one point: The critical turning point in the hunt came around August 2010, when the White House says it followed an Al Qaeda courier to Abbottabad, and when Hersh says a Pakistani informant went to the CIA with bin Laden’s location.

The medical intelligence presentation is dated two months before that, and its focus on geolocation would suggest that the analysts still did not know much about where bin Laden was hiding.
 

Indie

Legendary Member
Orange Room Supporter
Those who feel insulted by the inconvenient truth have no business being on this forum unless trolling is their assignment.

Hersh's critics are focusing on the fact that some of his sources are anonymous. Well most articles nowadays seem to rely solely on what some wire service "journalist" heard that some anonymous official said (not even to the journalist himself). And that wire service story gets re-printed, as is, in dozens of papers and website without further research. But those are credible journalists because their company is owned by Disney or some other monster conglomorate. :rolleyes:
 

J. Abizeid

Well-Known Member
U.S. denied son of Bin Laden his father's death certificate | Fox News Latino

U.S. denied son of Bin Laden his father's death certificate


Published June 19, 2015

The United States denied to a son of Osama bin Laden the death certificate of his father because such a document was never issued, according to one of more than 60,000 diplomatic cables from Saudi Arabia published Friday by WikiLeaks.

The U.S. consul general in Saudi Arabia told Abdullah bin Laden, one of the children of the slain leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist group, that death certificates are not customarily issued "for individuals killed in the course of military operations."

The response to Bin Laden's offspring is dated Sept. 9, 2011, four months after an operation of Navy SEALs special forces took out the terrorist leader at his Pakistan hideout.

Consul General Glen Keiser told Bin Laden's son that he could use as proof of his father's death the fact that the criminal case against his father in federal courts was dropped in June 2011 due to his death, and said that a request for the order of "nolle prosequi" (Latin for "we shall no longer prosecute") from a court, could serve as a death certificate.

The United States Embassy in Riyadh provided Abdullah bin Laden with the legal documents that show there are no court cases against his father, because he died in the operation of May 2011.

After shooting and killing Bin Laden, the SEALs took his body to certify his identity with pictures and DNA tests, in order to send that information to Washington.

Bin Laden was taken to the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, from where his lifeless body was thrown in the sea at an unspecified point in the Indian Ocean.

Though the U.S. government says it has photos of the dead Bin Laden, those pictures have never been made public.

WikiLeaks, which gained fame after publishing hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables and classified military documents, has said it will reveal 500,000 additional Saudi cables in the coming weeks. EFE
 
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