13 May 2015

Sy Hersh's Bin Laden Story Is Looking a Bit Less Fantastical

I mentioned yesterday that Seymour Hersh's account of the killing of Osama bin Laden, which is at siginficant variance with the official "Zero Dark Thirty" version was a potential bomb shell, but (at least initially) it was a bit light on sourcing.

Well, today, we have some more data points that seem to point to his story being accurate, at least in part.

First, we have a report from NBC saying that there was a Pakistani source inside the country's state security apparatus:
Intelligence sources tell NBC News that in the year before the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a retired Pakistani military intelligence officer helped the CIA track him down.

While the Pakistani intelligence asset provided vital information in the hunt for bin Laden, he did not provide the location of the al Qaeda leader's Abottabad, Pakistan compound, sources said.

Three sources also said that some officials in the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden was hiding all along.

The asset was evacuated from Pakistan and paid reward money by the CIA, sources said. U.S. officials took pains to note he was one of many sources who provided help along the way, and said that the al Qaeda courier who unwittingly led them to bin Laden, Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, remained the linchpin of the operation.

The U.S. government has always characterized the heroic raid by Seal Team Six that killed bin Laden as a unilateral U.S. operation, and has maintained that the CIA found him by tracking the courier.

The new revelations do not cast doubt on the overall narrative that the White House began circulating within hours of the May 2011 operation. The official story about how bin Laden was found was constructed in a way that protected the identity and existence of the asset, who also knew who inside the Pakistani government was aware of the Pakistani intelligence agency's operation to hide bin Laden, according to a special operations officer with prior knowledge of the bin Laden mission.
NBC qualifies as a reputable source, and this appears to be confirmation of a part of Hirsh's story.

It should be noted though, that this omission from the official story might very well be an issue of "Sources and Methods" as well as diplomatic reality, both of which would mitigate against revealing the complicity of Pakistani security.

What's more, this is precisely the sort of stuff that Hersh would uncover.

It's significant, and embarrassing, and makes authorities look far less heroic, which history shows to be Hersh's favorite kind of reporting.

Another interesting data point is that another reporter,  R. J. Hillhouse, is claiming that he took her story without attribution:
Seymour Hersh's story, "The Killing of Bin Laden," in the London Review of Books has a fundamental problem: it's either plagiarism or unoriginal.

If it's fiction--as some have implied, it's plagiarism. If it's true, it's not original. The story was broken here on The Spy Who Billed Me four years ago, in August 2011:

"Bin Laden Turned in by Informant -- Courier Was Cover Story"

"Questions Raised by Real Story of How US Found Bin Laden"

On August 7, 2011, I wrote, among other things:


I have had great respect for Seymour Hersh, arguably one of the greatest investigative journalists of our time. I do not believe his story is fiction. I trust my sources--which were clearly different than his. I am, however, profoundly disappointed that he has not given credit to the one who originally broke the story.
Hillhouse has writeen extensively on the US state security apparatus, including stories on outsourcing of intelligence activities that have drawn responses from the Director of National intelligence.

So, we have confirmation from NBC that someone inside Pakistan's intelligence establishment came to the administration at least a year before the raid, and two very similar accounts of the events of May 2, 2011 which appear to have been derived from different sources.

What's more, according to what appears to be an interview with Hillhouse in The Intercept, the account of SEALS throwing bin Laden's body, or body parts, out of a helicopter because they believed that the official story was going to be a drone strike, was something that she had been told by one source, but could not confirm, which provides some additional credibility to both accounts:
Hillhouse also claims that one of her sources told her a particular detail that she did not include in 2011 because she could not confirm it: that the Navy SEALs threw bin Laden’s body out of the helicopter while traveling over the Hindu Kush mountains from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Hersh’s story includes an assertion from his main source that “during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains.” While this seems bizarre in retrospect, it would be plausible if the SEALs had believed at the time that the Obama administration planned to say publicly that bin Laden had been killed in a drone strike.

Hillhouse believes that “Everything that [Hersh] has said has been spot on” but “You can’t help but notice that everything he is saying in the story, which is true, was first broken by me.”
So this account is definitely plausible.

The journalist "debunking" at this point seems to be loosely sourced accusations that Hersh has gone off the deep end.

The lesson here is that blithely dismissing reporting from Seymour Hersh is not a good idea.

His reporting, at the very least, merits serious due diligence by anyone following that event.


Post a Comment