Seymour Hersh is one of the world’s foremost investigative reporters. His reporting on the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War is credited with helping turn public interest against the campaign, leading to the U.S.’s eventual withdrawal from Southeast Asia. He also broke the story about torture at Abu Ghraib, another government cover up and something that similarly swayed public opinion.
He’s also a bit of a kook nut conspiracy theorist (how could you blame him at this point?), and has been repeatedly criticized for making big, bold claims from anonymous sources that are not necessarily backed up by anything that could remotely be considered “provable.”
So, take what we’re going to read next with some tremendous grains of salt, but also know that you know, the government does do a lot of shady shit that we aren’t aware of.
His argument, in a lengthy piece published yesterday in the London Review of Books, is that the official story about the death of Osama Bin Laden is completely bunk. That there was no CIA work done in finding him, that he wasn’t living with his family in Abottabad on his own volition but rather as a prisoner of the Pakistani CIA and that during the raid, no one was shot or killed (save for Bin Laden), and that his body was not dumped in the sea, but rather thrown out of the helicopter as SEALs flew back to Afghanistan.
We were also never supposed to hear about the SEAL team. Had that one helicopter not crashed, the government was going to declare that Bin Laden had been killed in a drone strike.
Oh, where oh where the fuck do we start with this?
I guess the discovery of Osama. There was never any courier and no Jessica Chastain-style dogmatic intelligence agent who never gave up hope.
Nah, some Pakistani just walked into the U.S. embassy one day and was like “Yup, we got him.”
Here we go.
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 CIA ferried this tipster out of the country as fast as humanely possible, before going to work on the intelligence. They also wanted to keep this from Pakistan, because according to their tipster, Pakistan was behind it all.
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 [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, their equivalent of the CIA and FBI] 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.)
Once the U.S. told Pakistan’s top two officials (General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha) they were aware, Pakistan agreed cooperate, so as to not lose aid from the U.S.
Jumping forward a bit, and ignoring a couple conspiracy theories, like that the expulsion of a CIA station chief was a rouse to show the outside world how uncooperative Pakistan was, plans went forward.
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.
Keeps everyone’s hands kinda clean there. Now we get to the actual raid, where things weren’t [allegedly] like anything you’ve been told.
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.
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 whole story is basically fucking nuts. Had the Black Hawk not crashed, the deal goes, we would have never know anything close to the truth. Everything else, the inconsistencies we got out of the White House in the first few days of the operation were all because the administration was concocting a story on the fly.
Which… is this the truth? Well, some have already began pointing out the many problems in Hersh’s story.
But his allegations are largely supported only by two sources, neither of whom has direct knowledge of what happened, both of whom are retired, and one of whom is anonymous. The story is riven with internal contradictions and inconsistencies.
The story simply does not hold up to scrutiny — and, sadly, is in line with Hersh’s recent turn away from the investigative reporting that made him famous into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.
However, a lot of other people believe Hersh’s source for the story was none other than former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who was heading up the department at the time of the raid. He would have tremendous knowledge of all this. If that’s the case, well, we will see. The story as previously known has been reported by many, many respected news outlets and reporters, and to think they were all duped is somewhat unbelievable.
Then again, the public’s been fooled many, many times before.
So… what do you think?